Specific versus Non-Specific Exercises for Chronic Neck or Shoulder Pain: A Systematic Review

J Clin Med. 2021 Dec 18;10(24):5946. doi: 10.3390/jcm10245946.


The current systematic review aimed to compare the effect of injury-focused (specific) exercises versus more general (non-specific) exercises on pain in patients with chronic neck or shoulder pain. We searched PubMed, EMBASE, and Web of Science. Two reviewers screened and selected studies, extracted outcomes, assessed risk of bias, and rated the quality of evidence. A total of nine eligible studies, represented in 13 articles, were identified, with a considerable risk of bias. One article investigated the acute effect of single bouts of exercise on pain and reported an immediate pain reduction after non-specific exercise. Regarding short-term effects, seven out of the nine studies found no differences in pain between interventions, with inconsistent results among two other studies. Concerning the long-term effects, while pain reduction seems to be favored by specific exercises (two out of four articles), the best format is still unclear. Based on the acute effects, a single bout of non-specific exercise seems to be a better option for pain-relief for patients with chronic neck or shoulder pain. For short-term effects, there are no differences in pain between specific and non-specific exercises. Regarding long-term effects, specific exercises seem to be the best option. Nevertheless, more studies are warranted.

Keywords: chronic pain; exercise therapy; musculoskeletal pain; neck pain; shoulder pain; systematic review.

Publication types

  • Review