BACKGROUND: Chronic non-specific neck pain is highly prevalent, resulting in significant disability. Despite exercise being a mainstay treatment, guidance on optimal exercise and dosage variables is lacking. Combining submaximal effort deep cervical muscles exercise (motor control) and superficial cervical muscles exercise (segmental) reduces chronic non-specific neck pain, but evaluation of optimal exercise and dosage variables is prevented by clinical heterogeneity.
OBJECTIVE: To gain consensus on important motor control and segmental exercise and dosage variables for chronic non-specific neck pain.
METHODS: An international 3-round e-Delphi study, was conducted with experts in neck pain management (academic and clinical). In round 1, exercise and dosage variables were obtained from expert opinion and clinical trial data, then analysed thematically (two independent researchers) to develop themes and statements. In rounds 2 and 3, participants rated their agreement with statements (1-5 Likert scale). Statement consensus was evaluated using progressively increased a priori criteria using descriptive statistics.
RESULTS: Thirty-seven experts participated (10 countries). Twenty-nine responded to round 1 (79%), 26 round 2 (70%) and 24 round 3 (65%). Round 1 generated 79 statements outlining the interacting components of exercise prescription. Following rounds 2 and 3, consensus was achieved for 46 important components of exercise and dosage prescription across 5 themes (clinical reasoning, dosage variables, exercise variables, evaluation criteria and progression) and 2 subthemes (progression criteria and progression variables). Excellent agreement and qualitative data supports exercise prescription complexity and the need for individualised, acceptable, and feasible exercise. Only 37% of important exercise components were generated from clinical trial data. Agreement was highest (88%-96%) for 3 dosage variables: intensity of effort, frequency, and repetitions.
CONCLUSION: Multiple exercise and dosage variables are important, resulting in complex and individualised exercise prescription not found in clinical trials. Future research should use these important variables to prescribe an evidence-informed approach to exercise.