Study design: Randomized controlled trial using mixed methods.
Objective: To evaluate the relative effectiveness of high-dose supervised exercise with and without spinal manipulation and low-dose home exercise for chronic neck pain.
Summary of background data: Neck pain is a common global health care complaint with considerable social and economic impact. Systematic reviews have found exercise therapy (ET) to be effective for neck pain, either alone or in combination with spinal manipulation. However, it is unclear to what extent spinal manipulation adds to supervised exercise or how supervised high-dose exercise compares with low-dose home exercise.
Methods: Two hundred and seventy patients with chronic neck pain were studied at an outpatient clinic. Patients were randomly assigned one of the following interventions: (1) high-dose supervised strengthening exercise with spinal manipulation (exercise therapy combined with spinal manipulation therapy [ET + SMT]), (2) high-dose supervised strengthening exercise (ET) alone, or (3) low-dose home exercise and advice (HEA). The primary outcome was patient-rated pain at baseline and at 4, 12, 26, and 52 weeks. Secondary measures were disability, health status, global perceived effect, medication use, and satisfaction.
Results: At 12 weeks, there was a significant difference in patient-rated pain between ET + SMT and HEA (1.3 points, P < 0.001) and ET and HEA (1.1 points, P = 0.001). Although there were smaller group differences in patient-rated pain at 52 weeks (ET + SMT vs. HEA, 0.2 points, P > 0.05; ET vs. HEA, 0.3 points, P > 0.05), linear mixed model analyses incorporating all time points yielded a significant advantage for the 2 supervised exercise groups (ET + SMT vs. HEA, P = 0.03; ET vs. HEA, P = 0.02). Similar results were observed for global perceived effect and satisfaction.
Conclusion: Supervised strengthening exercise with and without spinal manipulation performed similarly, yielding better outcomes than home exercise particularly in the short term. Various stakeholders' perspectives should be considered carefully when making recommendations regarding these therapies, taking into account side effects, preferences, and costs.
Trial registration: ClinicalTrials.gov NCT00269360.