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Pain | Got a Pain in the Neck? The Right Exercise May Help

Got a Pain in the Neck? The Right Exercise May Help

March 13, 2008—Working out might be the last thing on the minds of people suffering from chronic neck pain. However, a new study in Arthritis and Rheumatism found that exercises specifically targeting the neck muscles can lead to dramatic improvements in neck pain symptoms.

Physical exercise can help relieve some types of muscle and joint pain, and strengthening unaffected muscle groups can sometimes lessen pain in other parts of the body. The new study compared the effects of an exercise program targeting painful neck muscles with that of general fitness training in 42 women with chronic neck pain due to muscular tightness and fatigue from overuse.

Specific strength-training exercises for the neck and shoulder muscles using free weights were taught to some of the participants; others took part in a general fitness program that involved riding stationery bicycles without using handlebars so they could relax their shoulders. A third group served as a control and received no exercise training. Exercise sessions lasted for 20 minutes, three times per week for ten weeks.

By the end of ten weeks, women who had done specific exercises for the upper back and neck had a 79% decrease in their worst neck pain, while no change was seen in the control group. Women in the general fitness group also experienced a slight improvement in their symptoms, but the effect only lasted for a couple of hours after exercising. “Specific strength training locally of the neck and shoulder muscles is the most beneficial treatment in women with chronic neck muscle pain,” the authors concluded.

Eleanor D’Allesandro, a personal trainer at the Westfield Massachusetts YMCA, commented, “A lot of people with neck pain want to know if they should avoid working the muscles of the neck and upper back. I’m glad to be able to tell them that exercises targeted for that area will help their symptoms.” D’Allesandro suggests that people who work at a desk get up and stretch every half hour or so. “Doing gentle neck stretches at the work station can also help relieve minor muscle tension before it becomes problematic,” she added.

Be sure to check with a certified personal trainer or qualified healthcare professional before starting any new exercise program.

(Arthritis Rheum 2008;59:84–91)

Kimberly Beauchamp, ND, earned her bachelor’s degree from the University of Rhode Island and her Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University in Kenmore, WA. She cofounded South County Naturopaths in Wakefield, RI. Dr. Beauchamp practices as a birth doula and lectures on topics including whole-foods nutrition, detoxification, and women’s health.

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The health information contained in this site is not intended as medical advice and should not be considered a substitute for appropriate medical care. Any products mentioned in studies cited in Healthnotes articles are not necessarily endorsed by Bastyr. As with any product, consult with a natural health practitioner to discuss what may be best for you.

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