Jan 4, 2012, Bloomington, Minn. – Spinal manipulation and home exercise are more effective at relieving neck pain in the long term than medications, according to a research study conducted at Northwestern Health Sciences University in Bloomington, Minn. The results of the study were reported in the January 2012 Annals of Internal Medicine.
“These changes were diminished over time, but they were still present,” said Dr. Gert Bronfort, an author of the study and vice president for research at Northwestern Health Sciences University. “Even a year later, there were differences between the spinal manipulation and medication groups.”
Moderate and acute neck pain is a common reason people see a doctor, prompting millions of visits every year. Physical therapy, pain medication and spinal manipulation are popular options, but Dr. Bronfort was inspired to investigate further because so little research exists.
“There was a void in the scientific literature in terms of what the most helpful treatments are,” he said. “The results of this study are likely to have a major impact on how acute neck pain is treated.”
The research study involved a group of 272 adults with neck pain that had no known specific cause. The subjects were divided into three groups and followed for about three months.
One group was visited a chiropractor throughout the course of the study, making an average of 15 visits. A second group was assigned to take common pain relievers. The third group met on two occasions with physical therapists who gave them instructions on simple, gentle exercises for the neck that they could do at home. They were encouraged to do 5 to 10 repetitions of each exercise up to eight times a day. (The exercises are demonstrated at www.annals.org ).
After 12 weeks, the people in the non-medication groups did significantly better than those taking the drugs. About 57 percent of those who met with chiropractors and 48 percent who did the exercises reported at least a 75 percent reduction in pain, compared to 33 percent of the people in the medication group.
A year later, 53 percent of the subjects who had received spinal manipulation still reported at least a 75 percent reduction in pain, similar to the exercise group. That compared to just a 38 percent pain reduction among those who had been taking medication.
Dr. Bronfort noted that the group taking medications were not as empowered or active in their own care as those in the other groups.
“We think it’s important that patients are enabled to have as much control over their own condition as possible,” he said. “This study shows that patients can play a large role in their own care.”
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