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During the past 2 decades there has been an increase in the reporting of neck pain which is now second only to back pain. The increased incidents are attributed to women who perform repetitive tasks, such as a computer keyboard, in the work place.

Whether neck pain benefits from exercise is a key question in several studies, all of which offer conflicting conclusions.

Researchers Gisela Sjøgaard and Lars L. Andersen, National Research Center for the Working Environment, Copenhagen, Denmark, conducted a randomized controlled trial of 94 women from 7 different workplaces. Their work consisted of assembly line and office work. Participants were assigned to one of three groups:

  1. Those who did supervised specific strength training (SST) exercises for the neck and shoulder muscles.
  2. Those who did high-intensity general fitness training (GFT) on a bicycle ergometer.
  3. Those who received health counseling, but no physical training–the control group.

Both exercise groups worked out for 20 minutes, 3 times a week, for 10 weeks.

As you may have suspected, the ‘do nothing’ group did not experience a change in their neck pain. The GFT group, using the bicycle ergometer, did show a small decrease in neck pain, but only immediately after exercise. The SST group, who performed specific strength training, showed a marked decrease in neck pain over a prolonged training period and with a lasting effect after the training ended.

The researchers found that the level of neck pain decreased gradually in the SST group. As the trapezius muscle strength increased the associated pain decreased. As a result of their study the researchers suggest supervised high-intensity dynamic strength training of the painful muscle for 20 minutes, 3 times a week.