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07-05-2012 | Sports medicine | Article

Postural exercise helps ease neck pain


Free abstract

MedWire News: Exercises to train the deep cervical flexor (DCF) muscle while in an upright position could help improve the rehabilitation of patients with neck pain, preliminary study findings suggest.

"Facilitating an upright position activates the longus capitis/colli group," say the study researchers. "Thus a postural correction exercise which can be performed easily during the working day is advocated within a training program."

They randomly assigned 20 patients with persistent neck pain, aged 18-54 years, to an exercise group or a control group.

The exercise group was taught to gently "lift the base of the skull from the top of the neck" as if to lengthen the cervical spine, while assuming an upright position in a neutral lumbo-pelvic position. The patients were asked to perform the exercise, holding the position for 10 seconds, ideally every 15-20 minutes throughout the day for 2 weeks.

The control group did not undertake any exercise during the 2-week study period.

Diaries completed by the participants indicated that the exercise was performed an average 15.1 times/day.

Overall, the functional postural exercise improved cervical flexor muscle activity in the cranio-cervical flexion test (CCFT), as measured by a decrease in sternocleidomastoid (SCM) muscle activity, thus inferring an increase in DCF activation post-training. By contrast, there was no such improvement in the control group.

The amplitude of electromyographic signals recorded from the SCM muscles decreased across all five CCFT stages (22, 24, 26, 28, 30 mmHg). But differences were only significant at the first and third stages of the test, with decreases of 3.7 and 17.5 at 22 mmHg and 26 mmHg, respectively.

Gwendolen Jull and colleagues, from The University of Queensland in St Lucia, Australia, note that pain and disability measures were similar for the exercise and control groups, which they say is "not surprising" given only one exercise intervention, focusing on a single muscle group, was used.

Nevertheless, they write in Manual Therapy that their observations "suggest the worth of such an exercise to augment other training in the rehabilitation of patients with neck pain."

The team adds that the postural nature of the exercise, which allows for multiple repetitions that are difficult to achieve when only exercising in supine, makes it a "suitable option for the increasing number of people working in office environments or other sedentary occupations."

By Lucy Piper

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