Background: Neck pain (NP) is disabling and costly.
Objectives: To assess the effectiveness of exercise on pain, disability, function, patient satisfaction, quality of life (QoL) and global perceived effect (GPE) in adults with NP.
Methods: We searched computerised databases up to May 2014 for randomized controlled trials (RCTs) comparing exercise to a control in adults with NP with/without cervicogenic headache (CGH) or radiculopathy. Two reviewers independently conducted selection, data abstraction and assessed risk of bias. Meta-analyses were performed to establish pooled standardised mean differences (SMDp). The Grade of Recommendation, Assessment, Development and Evaluation (GRADE) was used to summarise the body of evidence.
Main results: The following exercises (27 trials) were supported by 'Moderate GRADE' evidence: For chronic NP, 1) cervico-scapulothoracic and upper extremity (UE) strengthening for moderate to large pain reduction immediately post treatment (IP) and at short-term (ST) follow-up; 2) scapulothoracic and UE endurance training for a small pain reduction (IP/ST); 3) cervical, shoulder and scapulothoracic strengthening and stretching exercise for a small to large pain reduction in the long-term (LT) (SMDp -0.45 [95%CI: -0.72 to -0.18]) and function improvement; 4) cervico-scapulothoracic strengthening/stabilisation exercises for pain and function at intermediate-term (IT) (SMDp -14.90 [95%CI: -22.40 to -7.39]). 5) mindfulness exercises (Qigong) for minor improved function but not GPE (ST). For chronic CGH, cervico-scapulothoracic strengthening and endurance exercises including pressure biofeedback for small/moderate improvement of pain, function and GPE (IP/LT).
Authors' conclusions: Specific strengthening exercises of the neck, scapulothoracic and shoulder for chronic NP and chronic CGH are beneficial. Future research should explore optimal dosage.
Keywords: Cochrane review; Exercise; Meta-analysis; Neck pain.
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