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Therapy may make no difference for neck pain

September 08, 2003|DIANNE PARTIE LANGE | Special to The Times

Neck pain is one of the most common occupational hazards for office workers, but the usual treatment and prevention advice -- muscle training and relaxation -- may not be especially effective.

A Finnish study of nearly 400 office workers found that ordinary activity was just as helpful as three months of strengthening exercise and relaxation training for chronic neck pain. One year later, there still was no difference among women who had continued exercising or doing relaxation exercises on their own compared with those who did nothing.

One group of women participated in a muscle-training program, using weights to strengthen the large muscles in their necks and shoulders, followed by stretching. Another group was taught to use relaxation exercises to activate only those muscles needed for daily activities and to relax muscles not being used. The women in this group also learned how to avoid neck tension. The third group didn't participate in either type of training and were told not to alter their usual activity.

At three, six and 12 months, physical therapists took various measures of neck pain intensity and disability, and the women answered questionnaires about their pain. Researchers found no difference among the groups in pain intensity, neck disability, work ability or muscle strength. Range of motion was slightly better in the training groups. There was no change in the number of sick days taken for neck pain.

Co-author Dr. Matti Viljanen, a specialist in physiatry and rehabilitation at the Tampere Regional Institute of Occupational Health in Finland, says these results were not unexpected. Other studies had found light gymnastics or stretching did not reduce pain when compared with no treatment. This is the first study, however, to examine the effect of relaxation exercises.

The study was published in the Aug. 30 issue of the British Medical Journal.

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