BACKGROUND: The evidence for the effect of treatments of neck pain is modest. In the absence of causal treatments, a possibility is to tailor the treatment to the individuals' functional limitations and symptoms. The aim was to evaluate treatment effects of a tailored treatment versus a non-tailored treatment. Our hypothesis was that tailored treatment (TT) would have better effect on pain intensity and disability than either non-tailored treatment (NTT) (same treatment components but applied quasi-randomly) or treatment-as-usual (TAU) (no treatment from the study, no restrictions). We further hypothesized that TT and NTT would both have better effect than TAU.
METHOD: One hundred twenty working women with subacute and chronic non-specific neck pain were allocated to 11 weeks of either TT, NTT or TAU in a randomized controlled trial with follow-ups at 3, 9 and 15 months. The TT was designed from a decision model based on assessment of function and symptoms with defined cut-off levels for the following categories: reduced cervical mobility, impaired neck-shoulder strength and motor control, impaired eye-head-neck control, trapezius myalgia and cervicogenic headache. Primary outcomes were pain and disability. Secondary outcomes were symptoms, general improvement, work productivity, and pressure pain threshold of m. trapezius.
RESULTS: Linear mixed models analysis showed no differences between TT and NTT besides work productivity favoring TT at 9- and 15-months follow-ups. TT and NTT improved significantly more than TAU on pain, disability and symptoms at 3-month follow-up. General improvement also favored TT and NTT over TAU at all follow-ups.
CONCLUSION: Tailored treatment according to our proposed decision model was not more effective than non-tailored treatment in women with subacute and chronic neck pain. Both tailored and non-tailored treatments had better short-term effects than treatment-as-usual, supporting active and specific exercise therapy, although therapist-patient interaction was not controlled for. Better understanding of the importance of functional impairments for pain and disability, in combination with a more precise tailoring of specific treatment components, is needed to progress.
TRIAL REGISTRATION: Current Controlled Trials ISRCTN 49348025. Registered 2 August 2011.
2016. Vol. 17, no 1, 408