People with chronic neck pain could better manage their condition by improving their overall physical fitness, according to a new study published in the International Journal of Rheumatic Diseases. The authors of this study also recommended that physicians assess their patients’ levels of anxiety and depression, in addition to physical fitness, when working out how best to manage chronic neck pain.
Reduced Fitness with Chronic Neck Pain
Specifically, the research found that men with chronic neck pain saw benefits from aerobic exercise, while whole body strengthening and neck strengthening benefited women with chronic neck pain. Assessments of the patients in this study found that women with chronic neck pain had worse scores on handgrip and back-leg strength tests than controls, in addition to increased sensitivity to pain in the suboccipital and paraspinal areas.
A worse performances on these tests and a higher sensitivity to pain were also correlated, suggesting that strategies for improving muscle strength in the whole body, rather than just focusing on the neck, could be important for those with chronic neck pain. When looking at the male patients in this study the researchers noted that those with chronic neck pain had reduced aerobic capacity, increased adiposity (fatty tissue), and worse sleep quality. These men had a slightly reduced step count per day than control, suggesting that, over time, chronic neck pain may lead to reduced physical fitness.
Anxiety, Depression and Chronic Neck Pain
Women with chronic neck pain also had reduced sleep quality and worse scores on the Beck Depression Inventory, the Beck Anxiety Inventory and the Short Form Health Survey (SF-36) for health related quality of life.
As such, clinicians are recommended to screen chronic neck pain sufferers for physical activity and fitness as well as depression and anxiety in order to offer appropriate referrals to physical therapists, occupational therapists, and counsellors to help patients improve their quality of life and better manage chronic neck pain.