A new study has found that specific strength training exercises lead to significant prolonged relief of neck muscle pain, while general fitness training results in only a small amount of pain reduction.
Women are more likely than men to suffer from persistent neck pain, particularly those who engage in repetitive tasks such as working at a computer keyboard.
The team, led by Gisela Sjøgaard and Lars L. Andersen of the National Research Centre for the Working Environment in Copenhagen, Denmark, therefore conducted the study on women.
They conducted a randomised controlled trial for which they recruited 94 women from seven workplaces.
The work tasks performed by the women consisted of assembly line work and office work, with 79 percent reported using a keyboard for more than 75 percent of their working time.
The study participants first filled out a questionnaire about their pain and then underwent a clinical exam to confirm a diagnosis of trapezius myalgia, muscle pain in the trapezius muscle, which extends along the back of the neck.
They were assigned to three intervention groups: those who did supervised specific strength training (SST) exercises for the neck and shoulder muscles, those who did high-intensity general fitness training (GFT) on a bicycle ergometer, and a control group that received health counselling but no physical training. Both exercise groups worked out for 20 minutes three times a week for 10 weeks.
The researchers found that while the GFT group showed a small decrease in neck muscle pain only immediately after exercise, the SST group showed a marked decrease in pain over a prolonged training period and with a lasting effect after the training ended.
"Thus specific strength training locally of the neck and shoulder muscles is the most beneficial treatment in women with chronic neck muscle pain," the authors said.
It was also found that the reduction in pain occurred gradually in the SST group, with trapezius muscle pain gradually decreasing as muscle strength increased.
The researchers said that the marked reduction in pain in the SST group is of major clinical importance.
"Based on the present results, supervised high-intensity dynamic strength training of the painful muscle 3 times a week for 20 minutes should be recommended in the treatment of trapezius myalgia," they said.