METHODS: A pragmatic randomised clinical trial was undertaken. Patients who met eligibility criteria were randomised into three groups. One group was treated using specific segmental high velocity low amplitude manipulation (diversified), another by specific segmental mobilisation, and a third group by the Activator instrument. All three groups were also treated for any myofascial distortions and given appropriate exercises and advice. Participants were treated six times over a three-week period or until they reported being pain free. The primary outcome measure for the study was Patient Global Impression of Change (PGIC); secondary outcome measures included the Short-Form Health Survey (SF-36v2), the neck Bournemouth Questionnaire, and the numerical rating scale for pain intensity. Participants also kept a diary of any pain medication taken and noted any perceived adverse effects of treatment. Outcomes were measured at four points: end of treatment, and 3, 6, and 12 months thereafter.
RESULTS: Between January 2007 and March 2008, 123 patients were assessed for eligibility, of these 47 were considered eligible, of which 16 were allocated to manipulation, 16 to the Activator instrument and 15 to the mobilisation group. Comparison between the groups on the PGIC adjusted for baseline covariants did not show a significant difference for any of the endpoints. Within group analyses for change from baseline to the 12-month follow up for secondary outcomes were significant for all groups on the Bournemouth Questionnaire and for pain, while the mobilisation group had a significant improvement on the PCS and MCS subscales of the SF-36v2. Finally, there were no moderate, severe, or long-lasting adverse effects reported by any participant in any group.
CONCLUSIONS: Although the small sample size must be taken into consideration, it appears that all three methods of treating mechanical neck pain had a long-term benefit for subacute neck pain, without moderate or serious adverse events associated with any of the treatment methods. There were difficulties in recruiting subjects to this trial. This pragmatic trial should be repeated with a larger sample size.
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