There are many treatment options for those suffering from neck pain. There is conventional medical care where the family doctor will usually prescribe a muscle relaxant, anti-inflammatory, and/or pain killer to help patients through episodes of acute neck pain. However, many patients with neck pain have been through the process of treatments associated with medications and simply cannot tolerate the adverse side effects of stomach pain common with anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen (Advil, Nuprin, Mediprin, etc.), Aleve (Naproxen), or aspirin. Others don’t like the groggy, drunk-like feelings associated with pain killers or the sleepiness associated with muscle relaxants. Therefore, these patients often turn to complementary / alternative care.
As noted in the May, 2009 issue of Consumer’s Report for low back pain, chiropractic was the most sought after form of treatment, but there has been no extensive review of neck pain regarding evidence-based treatment approaches – at least not until February, 2008. An international “team” representing 9 countries screened over 31,000 titles of articles published between 1980 and 2006, reviewed more than 1200 articles and eventually reported on 552 studies in their final report. Their findings included the following:
- In the US, 54% utilized complementary (alternative) treatment approaches compared to 37% that obtained conventional medical care.
- Neck pain was the 2nd most common reason Americans obtained chiropractic care.
- Chiropractic was found to be the most frequently reported form of treatment for upper back or neck pain (ahead of massage therapy, relaxation therapy, acupuncture).
- Those who obtained complementary AND conventional medical care were much more likely to perceive the complementary/alternative therapy as being helpful (61% vs. 6.4% for neck conditions and 39.1% vs. 19% for headaches).
- Women more commonly obtained care than men for neck/shoulder pain (29% vs. 18% men) over a 4-6 year time frame.
- Manual therapy (mobilization, manipulation, stretching) was associated with greater pain reduction in the short-term among patients with acute whiplash when compared with usual medical care, soft collars, passive modalities, or general advice.
- For non-whiplash neck pain (without arm radiating pain), manipulation or mobilization, exercise, low level laser therapy (LLLT), and “…perhaps acupuncture…” were reported as more effective than no treatment, sham, or other alternative interventions.
- For both whiplash and non-traumatic neck pain, supervised exercise with or without manual therapy was favored over usual medical care or no care.
What does all this mean? Simple! Everyone who is suffering from neck or upper back pain should consider chiropractic care which includes manipulation, mobilization, exercise training, and activity modifying advice, as these approaches have been found to be very effective.