Several non-invasive treatments work for neck pain

In brief

  • There are several effective treatment options for patients with either whiplash or chronic neck pain.
  • For this reason, a patient’s preference should play a strong role in decisions about treatment.

Published: January 2008

Why was this review done?

There has been no comprehensive review of non-invasive treatments for neck pain. “Non-invasive” means the treatment doesn’t involve surgery or injections. To address this gap, members of the Bone and Joint Decade 2000-2010 Task Force on Neck Pain and Its Associated Disorders conducted a systematic review of studies on non-invasive treatments for both whiplash and chronic or recurring neck pain.

How was the review done?

Task Force members searched Medline, an electronic database, for relevant studies published between 1980 and 2006. Researchers were mainly interested in studies that focused on the safety, use and effectiveness of non-invasive treatments. In total, 139 studies that met the task force’s scientific criteria were included in the final “best evidence” synthesis.

What did the reviewers find?

For whiplash, there were three treatments that worked. Educational videos, exercise, and neck mobilization (a manual technique) were more beneficial than usual care with a physician or treatments such as ultrasound or electrical stimulation. Soft and hard collars for whiplash patients did not work. For chronic or recurring neck pain, there were also several options. Laser therapy, supervised exercise and manual therapies including mobilization, massage or manipulation were better than no treatment, sham treatment or other options. Acupuncture also showed promise. For both types of neck pain, treatments that focused on having the patient functioning again quickly proved most effective. Most of the studies lasted less than 12 weeks.

What are some strengths and weaknesses of the review?

This is the first comprehensive review of a growing body of research on non-invasive treatments for neck pain. However, the review did not include any studies on self-care approaches to neck pain, such as over-the-counter medications.