Chiropractors and Exercise Better for Neck Pain than Painkillers

Chiropractors and Exercise Better for Neck Pain than Painkillers

Chiropractic care and stretching exercises are more effective at relieving neck pain than painkillers. Photo by Michael Dorausch

Home exercises and spinal manipulation by a chiropractor are more effective at relieving neck pain than prescription drugs or painkillers, according to a new study.

Researchers at the Northwestern Health Sciences University in Bloomington, Minnesota studied 272 people who suffered from neck pain. Participants were divided into three groups; those who received spinal manipulations over a 12-week period, those who were prescribed medication or painkillers, and those assigned one-hour sessions of at-home exercises.

All three groups had pain relief, but spinal manipulation by a chiropractor was more effective than painkillers in both the short and long term. Home exercises were equally effective at relieving pain after participants were given instructional sessions in stretching. The study, the first large federally funded study that compared the different treatments, was published this month in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

“It’s good news for patients that there’s something they can do themselves,” said Dr. Gert Bronfort, vice president of research at Northwestern Health Sciences University and one of the study’s authors.

Bronfort said the neck retraction exercises performed at home “seemed to be especially useful” in relieving pain. Neck retraction exercises involve tilting the head backward and then forward, which helps to stretch and relax muscles. Reducing pain in the lower back with exercise has been long-proven, but little was known on whether motion exercises could relieve neck pain.

Participants in the medicated group were treated with non-steroid drugs, including aspirin, muscle relaxants, and stronger narcotics.

“We found that there are some viable treatment options for neck pain,” said Bronfort. “What we don’t really know yet is how to individualize these treatments for each particular patient. All are probably still viable treatment options.” He agreed that a combination of treatments could also be helpful.

According to a report in Medline Plus, a service of the U.S. National Library of Medicine and the National Institutes of Health, at least 75 percent of Americans experience neck pain sometime during their lifetime, with sedentary office workers tending to be the most susceptible. Most people take over-the-counter medication, seek treatment from a chiropractor or physical therapist, or obtain a prescription for pain.

Dr. Vicot Khabie, chief of the departments of surgery and sports medicine at Northern Westchester Hospital in Mount Kisco, N.Y., said he believes the study basically shows that neck pain will improve regardless of the chosen treatment.

“Everyone heals differently. There are different pathways to healing, and whether you feel you’re better off with chiropractic, home exercises or medications, this study shows that all three are basically just as effective. Whatever your pathway to healing, in about six to eight weeks, you should start to feel better,” Khabie told Medline Plus.

Authored by: Rhonda Donaldson