Great British Pain in the Neck

  • Britons are more likely to suffer from neck pain
  • Massaging the spine is more effective than medicine in short and long term

People living in Britain are among those most likely to suffer neck pain according to an article published this month. It states that those living in high-income countries are more susceptible to the problem than those living in low or middle-income countries.

The study of neck pain treatment, published in Annals of Internal Medicine earlier this month, also reveals that women are more likely than men to experience neck pain and that the problem is particularly prolific among office and computer workers.

Britons are exceptionally hardworking and driven, with the UK ranked as the 13th most prosperous country out of the 130 countries measured in the 2011 Legatum Prosperity Index. Much of the work in high-income countries, including the UK, is conducted at a desk where ergonomics and stress are common factors that can result in neck pain and exacerbate existing conditions.

According to the article, spinal manipulation, which is practiced by osteopaths and some other health practitioners, was more effective at relieving symptoms than medication. Medication, whether over-the-counter or prescribed by GPs, is often a popular choice among time-poor workers who are reluctant to take time off for expert treatment. However patients who were taught self-massage techniques rather than solely having to rely on treatment provided by professionals also benefitted more than those taking medication.

Kelston Chorley, Head of Professional Development at the British Osteopathic Association (BOA) says: “These research findings are positive for individuals, employers and employees. Pain relief medication can be expensive and learning self-massage techniques mean individuals can be empowered to help manage their pain. Further, where medication is ineffective, this can result in on-going problems that could have been resolved earlier and may even worsen as a result. This can mean people have to take time off work for extended periods.

“An osteopath will usually provide some initial treatment to help correct any underlying cause for the condition and will always provide self-help strategies for neck pain so patients can manage their condition in the future.”

The article also says that mobilisation, described by the BOA as repetitive movements of joints to free up restrictions and increase the movement of joints and surrounding tissues, may be a better first treatment for non-specific neck pain than manipulation, described as unlocking restricted joint and surrounding tissues with a single highly specific movement, which can be an uncomfortable experience for some patients.

Kelston concludes: “In many cases of acute or chronic neck problems manipulation is not always the first line of treatment by an osteopath. Using a combination of soft tissue massage, mobilisations and self-help exercises often proves to be a more appropriate solution than the “neck clicking” commonly associated with manipulation.”

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