We report a systematic analysis of group change scores of subjects with chronic neck pain not due to whiplash and without headache or arm pain, in randomized clinical trials of a single session of manual therapy. A comprehensive literature search of clinical trials of chronic neck pain treated with manual therapies up to December 2006 was conducted. Trials that scored above 60% on the PEDro Scale were included. Change scores were analyzed for absolute, percentage change and effect size (ES) whenever possible. Nine trials were identified: 6 for spinal manipulation, 4 for spinal mobilization or non-manipulative manual therapy (2 overlapping trials), and 1 trial using ischemic compression. No trials were identified for massage therapy or manual traction. Four manipulation trials (five groups) reported mean immediate changes in 100-mm VAS of -18.94 (9.28) mm. ES for these changes ranged from .33 to 2.3. Two mobilization trials reported immediate VAS changes of -11.5 and -4 mm (ES of .36 and .22, respectively); one trial reported no difference in immediate pain scores versus sham mobilization. The ischemic compression study showed statistically significant immediate decreases in 100-mm pain VAS (average = -14.6 mm). There is moderate-to-high quality evidence that immediate clinically important improvements are obtained from a single session of spinal manipulation. The evidence for mobilization is less substantial, with fewer studies reporting smaller immediate changes. There is insufficient evidence for ischemic compression to draw conclusions. There is no evidence for a single session of massage or manual traction for chronic neck pain.
Keywords: Clinical Trials; Manipulation; Manual; Manual Therapy; Mobilization; Neck Pain.