Union physical therapists point out the importance of combining exercise with education in light of recent study

Each month, our Union physical therapists strive to keep you in the know on some of the most important recent developments in the physical therapy research world. By explaining the findings of newly published studies, we hope to show our patients that you always have several options for treating your injury or painful condition. But based on the research that continues to be published, we firmly believe that physical therapy is the best available option in nearly every case.

This month, we’ve decided to discuss the findings of a recent study that investigates a combination of a few different treatments for long lasting neck pain.

Neck pain is second only to back pain when it comes to most common painful disorders that affect the musculoskeletal system. Statistics vary on just how prevalent neck pain is, but some figures estimate that up to 80% of Americans experience at least one episode of neck pain each year. Dealing with neck pain can prove to be a major obstacle in living and functioning normally, and can even cause some people to be unable to work.

The majority of people who get neck pain improve on their own within a few days or possibly longer, but for some, it spirals into a long-term and bothersome problem. When pain lasts for more than three months, it’s called chronic neck pain, which can lead to additional issues like stress, anxiety, reduced quality of life and a tendency to avoid certain behaviors that might aggravate the pain. Chronic neck pain is therefore a rare but important condition that requires effective strategies to address it.

There are many treatments available for chronic neck pain, but physical therapy that involves specific exercises for the neck and physical activity training is strongly recommended for reducing pain and improving function in patients. Education is also an important part of treatment, and combining all of these ingredients together may lead to the best possible outcomes. Due to the fact that this combination of treatments has not been studied yet, a randomized-controlled trial was conducted, which is the most powerful type of individual study that can be performed.

Large sample of patients randomly divided into two groups

For the study, 200 individuals with chronic neck pain were randomly divided into two groups. Both groups attended four education sessions that instructed them on how to accept and understand their pain, but one group also followed an exercise program. This consisted of specific exercises for the neck, as well as recommendations to exercise three times a week for four months. All patients were evaluated before and after the four months to determine which group improved more.

Results showed that the patients who performed the exercises and regular physical activity reported significantly better scores overall than the other group. In particular, these patients were found to have better muscle function, neck flexibility and threshold for pain, as well as improved mood and both mental and physical quality of life.

This study is helpful in a number of ways. It shows that education is an important component of treatment for chronic neck pain, but it must also be combined with treatments and other interventions in order to lead to significant improvements. In addition, the combination of treatments used in this study not only improved patients’ physical condition, but their mental state as well. This is very noteworthy, since many patients with chronic neck pain also have to deal with psychological issues due to their condition.

Contact our Union physical therapists for any short- or long-term issues

At Arrow Physical Therapy and Rehabilitation, our Union physical therapists can address all types of short- and long-term painful conditions with treatment programs that are similar to the one used in this study. So if you’re in pain and want to get back to moving and functioning pain-free, contact us at 908-258-8782 to schedule an appointment at any of our four clinics in Union, Woodbridge, Edison or Somerville NJ.

To read the abstract (summary) of the study on chronic neck pain, click here.