Non-specific neck pain has a postural or mechanical basis and affects about two thirds of people at some stage, especially in middle age. Acute neck pain resolves within days or weeks, but may become chronic in about 10% of people. Whiplash injuries follow sudden acceleration–deceleration of the neck, such as in road traffic or sporting accidents. Up to 40% of people continue to report symptoms 15 years after the accident, although this varies between countries.
Methods and outcomes
We conducted a systematic review and aimed to answer the following clinical questions: What are the effects of treatments for people with non-specific neck pain without severe neurological deficit? What are the effects of treatments for acute whiplash injury? What are the effects of treatments for chronic whiplash injury? What are the effects of treatments for neck pain with radiculopathy? We searched: Medline, Embase, The Cochrane Library, and other important databases up to May 2007 (BMJ Clinical Evidence reviews are updated periodically; please check our website for the most up-to-date version of this review). We included harms alerts from relevant organisations such as the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the UK Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA).
We found 91 systematic reviews, RCTs, or observational studies that met our inclusion criteria. We performed a GRADE evaluation of the quality of the evidence for interventions.
In this systematic review we present information relating to the effectiveness and safety of the following interventions: acupuncture, biofeedback, drug treatments (analgesics, antidepressants, epidural steroid injections, muscle relaxants, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs [NSAIDs]), early mobilisation, early return to normal activity, exercise, heat or cold, manipulation (alone or plus exercise), mobilisation, multimodal treatment, patient education, percutaneous radiofrequency neurotomy, physical treatments, postural techniques (yoga, pilates, Alexander technique), pulsed electromagnetic field (PEMF) treatment, soft collars and special pillows, spray and stretch, surgery, traction, and transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS).
Non-specific neck pain has a postural or mechanical basis, and affects about two thirds of people at some stage, especially in middle age.
Acute neck pain resolves within days or weeks, but becomes chronic in about 10% of people.Whiplash injuries follow sudden acceleration–deceleration of the neck, such as in road traffic or sporting accidents. Up to 40% of people continue to report symptoms 15 years after the accident.
The evidence about the effects of individual interventions for neck pain is often contradictory because of poor quality RCTs, the tendency for interventions to be given in combination, and for RCTs to be conducted in diverse groups. This lack of consistency in study design makes it difficult to isolate which intervention may be of use in which type of neck pain.
Stretching and strengthening exercise reduces chronic neck pain compared with usual care, either alone or in combination with manipulation, mobilisation, or infrared.
Manipulation and mobilisation may reduce chronic pain more than usual care or less-active exercise. They seem likely to be as effective as each other or as exercise, and more effective than pulsed electromagnetic field (PEMF) treatment, or than heat treatment.
Acupuncture may be more effective than some types of sham or inactive treatment at improving pain relief and quality of life at the end of treatment or in the short term.
Analgesics, NSAIDs, antidepressants, and muscle relaxants are widely used to treat chronic neck pain, but we don't know whether they are effective.
We don't know whether traction,
heat or cold,
spray and stretch,
soft collars, or special pillows are better or worse than other treatments at reducing chronic neck pain.
Early mobilisation may reduce pain in people with acute whiplash injury compared with immobilisation or rest with a collar.
We don't know whether exercise, early return tonormal activity,
multimodal treatment, or drug treatment can reduce pain in people with acute whiplash injury.
We don't know whether percutaneous radiofrequency neurotomy,
multimodal treatment, or physical treatment reduce pain in people with chronic whiplash injury.
We don't know whether surgery,
analgesics, NSAIDs, muscle relaxants, or cervical epidural steroid injections reduce pain in people with neck pain plus radiculopathy.