METHODS: A systematic review of RCTs of conservative treatments for chronic mechanical neck pain was conducted. Studies were excluded if they did not include a control group, if they involved subjects with whiplash injuries, a predominance of headache or arm pain associated with chronic neck pain and if only one treatment was reported. Only studies scoring 3-5 out of 5 on the Jadad Scale for quality were included in the final analysis. Data on change in pain scores of subjects in both placebo (PL) as well as no-treatment (NT) control groups were analyzed. Mean changes in pain scores as well as effect sizes were calculated, summarized and compared between these groups.
RESULTS: Twenty (20) studies, 5 in the NT group and 15 in the PL group, with outcome intervals ranging from 1-52 weeks were included in the final analysis. The mean [95% CI] effect size of change in pain ratings in the no-treatment control studies at outcome points up to 10 weeks was 0.18 [-0.05,0.41] and for outcomes from 12-52 weeks it was 0.4 [0.12, 0.68]. In the placebo control groups it was 0.50 [0.10,0.90] at up to 10 weeks and 0.33. [-1.97,2.66] at 12-24 weeks. None of the comparisons between the no-treatment and placebo groups were statistically significant.
CONCLUSIONS: It appears that the changes in pain scores in subjects with chronic neck pain not due to whiplash who are enrolled in no-treatment and placebo control groups were similarly small and not significantly different. As well, they do not appear to increase over longer-term follow-up.
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