OBJECTIVE: To update the evidence on the effectiveness of exercise interventions to prevent episodes of neck pain. DESIGN: Systematic review with meta-analysis. LITERATURE SEARCH: MEDLINE, Embase, CENTRAL, CINAHL, SPORTDiscus, PEDro, and trial registries from inception to December 2, 2022. Forward and backward citation searches. STUDY SELECTION CRITERIA: Randomized controlled trials (RCTs) that enrolled adults without neck pain at baseline and compared exercise interventions to no intervention, placebo/sham, attention control, or minimal intervention. Military populations and astronauts were excluded. DATA SYNTHESIS: Random-effects meta-analysis. Risk of bias was assessed using the Cochrane RoB 2 tool. The certainty of evidence was judged according to the GRADE approach. RESULTS: Of 4703 records screened, 5 trials (1722 participants at baseline) were included and eligible for meta-analysis. Most (80%) participants were office workers. Risk of bias was rated as some concerns for 2 trials and high for 3 trials. There was moderate-certainty evidence that exercise interventions probably reduce the risk of a new episode of neck pain (OR, 0.49; 95% confidence interval: 0.31, 0.76) compared to no or minimal intervention in the short-term (≤12 months). The results were not robust to sensitivity analyses for missing outcome data. CONCLUSION: There was moderate-certainty evidence supporting exercise interventions for reducing the risk for an episode of neck pain in the next 12 months. The clinical significance of the effect is unclear. J Orthop Sports Phys Ther 2023;53(10):1-16. Epub: 8 September 2023. doi:10.2519/jospt.2023.12063.
Keywords: exercise; meta-analysis; neck pain; prevention; recurrence; systematic review.