Purpose: Although there is growing evidence in favour of the bio-psychosocial approach to the treatment of persistent neck pain, it is questioned whether treating psychological factors can improve patient perceptions of disability, pain and quality of life. This randomised, controlled study with 12 months' follow-up was conducted to evaluate the efficacy of adding cognitive-behavioural principles to exercises for chronic neck pain.
Methods: Eighty patients were randomly assigned to the usual neck exercises plus cognitive-behavioural treatment (PTcb group, 40 subjects) or to treatment based on neck exercises alone (PT group, 40 subjects). Before treatment (T1), at the end of treatment (T2) and 12 months later (T3), all of the patients completed a booklet including the Neck Pain and Disability Scale, a numerical rating scale, and the Short-Form Health Survey Questionnaire (SF-36).
Results: The present trial failed to demonstrate its primary end point: the pre- and post-treatment difference in total NPDS scores was not statistically different between groups. Disability improved similarly in both groups over time, remaining stable until T3 in the PTcb group and slightly increasing at the same time in the PT group. Pain trends were comparable, with both groups showing an improvement between T1 and T2, and a slight worsening between T2 and T3. There were significant increases in all of the SF-36 domains except for health in general, and vitality in both groups by the end of treatment. SF-36 showed a between-group difference only for the physical activity domain (10.4; 95% CI 2.4-18.5).
Conclusion: Disability, pain and quality of life improved at the end of treatment in both groups, without differences between them.