Experts estimate that up to 70% of people will experience an episode of neck pain in their lifetime. Though there are many potential forms of treatment available, little has been published comparing the various treatment options available to the neck pain patient.

A 2012 study that involved 272 neck pain patients compared three treatment options: chiropractic, medication, and exercise. After twelve weeks of treatment, the patients who received either chiropractic care or exercise instruction reported the greatest reduction in pain. The researchers followed up with the participants for up to a year and found that the patients in the chiropractic and exercise groups continued to report less pain than those in the medication group, and these benefits persisted until the end of the study. The researchers concluded that participants from both the chiropractic care and exercise therapy groups had more than double the likelihood of complete pain relief than with the patients in the medication group.

Quality studies on the short- and medium- term benefits of exercise and manual therapies applied to the cervical spine for patients with neck pain have been published since the 1980s. However, the benefits over the long term are not as well documented. With this in mind, a 2002 study followed 191 patients with chronic neck pain for two years comparing spinal manipulation (SM) with and without one of two types of exercises: low-tech (and low cost) rehabilitative exercise (LTEx) or high-tech MedX (machine assisted) rehabilitative exercises (HTEx).

The research team randomly assigned the 191 patients to eleven weeks of one of three treatments: SM only; SM + LTEx; or SM + HTEx. The investigators evaluated the patients at the start of the study, again after five weeks of treatment, and finally following the conclusion of the treatment phase of the study at eleven weeks. They followed-up with the patients three, six, twelve, and 24 months later as well.

The results showed that SM + LTEx and SM + HTEx were both superior to SM alone at both one- and two-year time points. Overall, the patients in the SM + LTEx group reported the greatest pain reduction and satisfaction with care. This finding is even more important, as the care delivered to the SM + LTEx group costs less than care involving specialized, more expensive equipment.

It’s clear that chiropractic care that includes spinal manipulation and/or mobilization with exercise training yields the best long-term outcomes. Add to that the use of soft tissue therapies such as myofascial release, active release technique, and various modalities, and chiropractic is CLEARLY the best choice for patients with acute or chronic neck pain.