Effectiveness and optimal dosage of exercise training for chronic non-specific neck pain: A systematic review with a narrative synthesis

Jonathan Price, Alison Rushton, Isaak Tyros, Vasileios Tyros, Nicola R Heneghan

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BACKGROUND: Clinical guidelines make vague recommendations as to exercise training (ET) type and dosage to manage chronic non-specific neck pain (CNSNP).

OBJECTIVE: To synthesise evidence on the effectiveness of different ET programmes to reduce CNSNP and associated disability, and whether dosage affects outcomes.

METHODS: A systematic review and data synthesis was conducted according to a published registered protocol (PROSPERO CRD42018096187). A sensitive topic-based search was conducted of CINAHL, MEDLINE, EMBASE, PEDro, grey literature sources and key journals from inception to 6th January 2020 for randomised controlled trials, investigating ET for CNSNP or disability. Two reviewers independently completed eligibility screening, data extraction, risk of bias assessment (Cochrane Risk of Bias Tool) and rated the overall strength of evidence using Grading of Recommendations Assessment, Development and Evaluation. Data was tabulated for narrative synthesis and grouped by intervention, outcome and time point to compare across studies.

RESULTS: Twenty-six trials from 3990 citations (n = 2288 participants) investigated fifteen ET programmes. High RoB and low sample sizes reduced evidence quality. Clinical heterogeneity prevented meta-analyses. A range of ET programmes reduce pain/disability in the short term (low to moderate evidence). Pillar exercises reduce pain/disability in the intermediate term (low level evidence). Moderate to very large pain reduction is found with ET packages that include motor control + segmental exercises (low to moderate evidence). No high-quality trials investigated long term outcomes. Increased frequency of motor control exercises and progressively increased load of pillar exercise may improve effectiveness.

CONCLUSIONS: Motor control + segmental exercises are the most effective ET to reduce short term pain/disability, but long-term outcomes have not been investigated. Optimal motor control + segmental exercise variables and dosage is unknown and requires clarification. An adequately powered, low RoB trial is needed to evaluate the effectiveness and optimal dosage of motor control + segmental on long term outcomes.


Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0234511
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 10 Jun 2020

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)
  • General


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