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Jan 23, 2012

Neck Pain: Chiropractic & Home Exercises More Effective Than Painkiller Meds

When it comes to neck pain, painkiller medications are less effective at managing the pain compared with natural treatments, according to a recent study published in The Annals of Internal Medicine.  With approximately three-quarters of the American population dealing with some form of neck pain at some point during their lifetimes, this amounts to an enormous number of doctor visits yearly.  Many of the painkillers people and their doctors tend to reach for in an effort to ease the pain are associated with multiple undesirable or even dangerous side effects.    
In a study population of 272 adults experiencing neck pain with no known specific cause, individuals were assigned to one of three groups and followed for three months.  In the first group, participants made regular 20-minute visits to a chiropractor for an average of 15 sessions.  In the second group, participants were administered common pain relievers such as acetaminophen or even stronger medications like narcotics and muscle relaxants.  For participants in the third group, simple home exercises were assigned by physical therapists.  Physical therapists advised participants to do 5-10 repetitions of each exercise up to eight times daily.  

After the trial period of 12 weeks, 57 percent of individuals in the chiropractic care group reported a 75 percent or more decrease in pain while 48 percent of those participating in home exercises experienced similar relief.  In comparison, this extent of pain relief was only reported by 33 percent of those in the painkiller group.  

Even after one year’s time, 53 percent of individuals belonging to both the chiropractic and home exercise groups reported a 75 percent reduction in pain, while only 38 percent of those in the medication group had this response.  

These results reflect how simple, natural, and non-medication based treatments may be more effective for relieving neck pain than painkiller medications, not only in the short term but also longer term.  In addition to experiencing poorer efficacy compared with the natural treatment groups, those in the painkiller group had to raise their medication level as time progressed.  According to research professor and author of the study, Dr. Gert Bronfort, “The people in the medication group kept on using a higher amount of medication more frequently throughout the follow-up period, up to a year later.”  Taking medications over long periods of time clearly raises the risk of developing harmful side effects.      

This study illustrates the importance of addressing the underlying causes for illness rather than merely focusing on treatment of symptoms alone.  By receiving either chiropractic care or learning how to practice gentle home exercises as part of their treatments for neck pain, the individuals in these groups were able to effect more than just their symptoms.  Stretching and strengthening muscles, correcting poor posture and structural integrity through spinal manipulation, and being more actively engaged in one’s treatment are examples of how it may be possible to treat some of the underlying causes of neck pain.  In this study the participants taking painkillers were only receiving symptomatic treatment.  

This is a good reminder for us that, although pharmaceutical medications may be a seemingly quick and easy solution for many types of conditions, it makes sense to seek out lasting solutions that actually address more than just symptoms!  When it comes to neck pain, this study demonstrates the benefits of pursuing natural treatments like chiropractic and gentle home exercises.    

Dr. Shana McQueen