General Exercise Does Not Improve Long-Term Pain and Disability in Individuals With Whiplash-Associated Disorders: A Systematic Review

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Systematic review of randomized controlled trials.


General exercise, defined as purposeful physical activity involving repetitive exercises and incorporating multiple muscle groups, is frequently used in the management of whiplash-associated disorders (WADs). Evidence supporting its efficacy is not well established.


To determine whether general exercise is effective in reducing pain and disability in people with WAD.


Studies published in English in peer-reviewed journals between January 1990 and May 2015 were eligible if they evaluated a general exercise intervention compared with a different intervention or control. Studies were required to evaluate pain and disability at medium-term (6-14 weeks) and long-term (52 weeks) follow-ups. The mean ± SD and sample size were recorded for follow-up scores and for change scores from baseline to follow-up.


Of the 3 high-quality studies that were eligible for inclusion, none investigated general exercise alone. There were no clinically meaningful differences between comprehensive exercise programs, which included general exercise, and minimal intervention controls in the medium and long term. No studies directly compared general exercise with a no-treatment control. All included studies used different control interventions, preventing meta-analysis.


A lack of significant long-term improvements from general exercise interventions in individuals with WAD was identified. This finding differs from the positive benefits of general exercise for other musculoskeletal conditions. This may, in part, relate to the complexity of whiplash conditions. This may also reflect the challenge of exercise prescription in this population, where the need for sufficient intensity is balanced against the impact that exercise has on pain.


Therapy, level 1a.

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