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Managing Neck Pain With Exercise in Office Workers

What kind of exercise works best for chronic neck pain in office workers? How much exercise is needed? In this study, researchers from Finland try to identify the proper dose of exercise to alleviate cervical (neck) pain.

Female office workers ages 25 to 55 were included. All women had moderate neck pain for more than six months. There were two training groups and one control group. One training group received a program of strength training (ST) exercises. The other training group performed endurance training (ET) exercise.

A physical therapist instructed each patient in the training groups over a 12-day period. The women did the exercises at home three times a week for the next 12 months. The control group was advised to do aerobic exercise 30 minutes, three times a week.

Everyone was given a bike test before and after the study. The test was to measure maximal oxygen uptake. Each office worker also kept a diary of training and daily work, travel, and leisure activities.

A special computer program was used to calculate the metabolic equivalent (MET) units for each activity. MET refers to the amount of oxygen used during activities. One MET is equal to the amount of oxygen a normal, healthy adult uses sitting at rest. METs can be used to calculate the intensity of exercise.

After 12 months, maximal oxygen uptake remained the same for all three groups. Neck pain was decreased in all three groups. Disability decreased (function improved) the most in the ST group. Equal results were reported for disability in the endurance and control groups.

Women who trained at higher MET levels had the greatest decrease in pain levels. The authors report training was only effective when performed three times a week for at least a total of 8.75 METs. The most likely explanation for the results is improved metabolism and increased muscle strength in the neck muscles.

The authors conclude that a program of ST or ET can reduce neck pain and disability. Dose is important and enough training has to be done to see these changes. Similar studies in men and workers with severe neck pain are needed.


Riku Nikander, MSc, PT, et al. Dose-Response Relationship of Specific Training to Reduce Chronic Neck Pain and Disability. In Medicine & Sciance in Sports & Exercise. December 2006. Vol. 38. No. 12. Pp. 2068-2074.

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