Comparing biofeedback with active exercise and passive treatment for the management of work-related neck and shoulder pain: a randomized controlled trial

Arch Phys Med Rehabil. 2011 Jun;92(6):849-58. doi: 10.1016/j.apmr.2010.12.037.


Objectives: To compare the effects of biofeedback with those of active exercise and passive treatment in treating work-related neck and shoulder pain.

Design: A randomized controlled trial with 3 intervention groups and a control group.

Setting: Participants were recruited from outpatient physiotherapy clinics and a local hospital.

Participants: All participants reported consistent neck and shoulder pain related to computer use for more than 3 months in the past year and no severe trauma or serious pathology. A total of 72 potential participants were recruited initially, of whom a smaller group of individuals (n=60) completed the randomized controlled trial.

Interventions: The 3 interventions were applied for 6 weeks. In the biofeedback group, participants were instructed to use a biofeedback machine on the bilateral upper trapezius (UT) muscles daily while performing computer work. Participants in the exercise group performed a standardized exercise program daily on their own. In the passive treatment group, interferential therapy and hot packs were applied to the participants' necks and shoulders. The control group was given an education booklet on office ergonomics.

Main outcome measures: Pain (visual analog scale), neck disability index (NDI), and surface electromyography were assessed preintervention and postintervention. Pain and NDI were reassessed after 6 months.

Results: Postintervention, average pain and NDI scores were reduced significantly more in the biofeedback group than in the other 3 groups, and this was maintained at 6 months. Cervical erector spinae muscle activity showed significant reductions postintervention in the biofeedback group, and there were consistent trends of reductions in the UT muscle activity.

Conclusions: Six weeks of biofeedback training produced more favorable outcomes in reducing pain and improving muscle activation of neck muscles in patients with work-related neck and shoulder pain.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Biofeedback, Psychology*
  • Computers
  • Electromyography
  • Exercise Therapy
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Muscle Fatigue / physiology
  • Muscle, Skeletal / physiopathology
  • Neck Pain / physiopathology
  • Neck Pain / prevention & control
  • Neck Pain / rehabilitation*
  • Pain Measurement
  • Shoulder Pain / physiopathology
  • Shoulder Pain / prevention & control
  • Shoulder Pain / rehabilitation*
  • Treatment Outcome
  • Young Adult