With so many of us staring at our computer screens or stuck looking down at our phones for hours on end, it’s no wonder that the CDC reports that nearly 20% of Americans have complained of neck pain within the past three months.
In fact, moderate and acute neck pain is one of the most frequent reasons for trips to primary care doctors, prompting millions of visits every year.
But while it’s tempting to head to the medicine cabinet for a quick fix, new research shows that for actual relief, making an appointment with your chiropractor and doing some simple at-home exercises are much more effective than relying on pain medications like aspirin, ibuprofen or narcotics.
Plus, while the improvements in neck function diminished somewhat over time, even a year later, there were still significant differences between the chiropractic manipulation and medication groups.
What the evidence says
The recent study, published in The Annals of Internal Medicine, is one of the few head-to-head comparisons of various treatments for neck pain.
A total of 272 adults experiencing neck pain with no specific cause were recruited for the study. They were split into 3 groups and followed for 3 months.
- Group 1 was assigned 15 sessions with a chiropractor. The sessions lasted 20 minutes and included both chiropractic manipulation and soft tissue work, similar to what we do at Ascent Chiropractic in Brookfield.
- Group 2 was given common pain relievers like Tylenol and, in some cases, stronger medications like opioids and muscle relaxers.
- Group 3 met with physical therapists that instructed them on simple, gentle neck exercises to be performed at home 8 times per day, with 5-10 repetitions of each exercise.
After 12 weeks, the participants in the chiropractic and physical therapy groups did significantly better than those taking drugs. About 57% of those who met with chiropractors and 48% who did exercises reported at least a 75% reduction in pain, compared to just 33% of the people in the medication group.
When the researchers checked back in a year later, 53% of the subjects who had seen a chiropractor still reported at least a 75% reduction in pain. That compared to just a 38% pain reduction among those who had been taking medication.
In addition to their limited effectiveness for pain relief, the medication group had at least one other downside: people kept taking them at higher and higher doses. The people in the drug group continually increased the amount and how often they took medication throughout the follow-up period, up to a year later. That leads to a much higher likelihood of systemic side effects, especially gastrointestinal problems.
Exercises that can help with a stiff neck
Need some neck pain relief right now? Here are some stretches and exercises to do at your desk or in the car that can help:
- Roll your shoulders backwards and down 10 times.
- Squeeze your shoulder blades together 10 times.
- Push your head backwards into your car head rest or hands and hold for 30 seconds.
- Bring your ear to your shoulder 10 times on each side.
- Use your right hand to pull down your left wrist behind your back and tilt your head to the right. Hold for 30 seconds and repeat with the opposite side.
Looking at chiropractic’s excellent clinical track record, adding chiropractic care to your treatment plan is a no-brainer. Looking for a Brookfield chiropractor? We’d love to help you get started with chiropractic care. Make an appointment at Ascent Chiropractic in Brookfield by calling 262-345-4166 or schedule an appointment with our online scheduling app.
Source: Bronfort G, Evans R, Anderson AV, et al. Spinal Manipulation, Medication, or Home Exercise With Advice for Acute and Subacute Neck Pain: A Randomized Trial. Ann Intern Med. 2012;156:1–10.