Exercise Not Often Prescribed for Chronic Neck and Back Pain

According to researchers from University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, exercise is not often prescribed to treat chronic neck and back pain, though it is recommended by current guidelines.

Past studies show that exercise decreases physical limitations and improves pain, yet not enough healthcare providers prescribe exercise for their patients.

According to researchers Timothy S. Carey and Janet K. Freburger of the Cecil G. Sheps Center for Health Services Research at UNC, "Less than 50 percent of the subjects in our sample were prescribed exercise, one of the few moderately effective therapies for the highly disabling illness of chronic back and neck pain."

The study, published in the February issue of Arthritis Care & Research, was initiated to determine what sort of exercises are being prescribed, who might be prescribing, and what sort of exercises are being used to treat chronic neck and back pain.

The research included 684 individuals, who responded to telephone surveys. The results showed that exercises to treat chronic neck and back pain are most often given to patients from physical therapists, followed by physicians, and lastly chiropractors. Only 14% of patients received exercise prescriptions from physicians, though most of the study participants sought physician guided treatment.

Physical therapists were most likely to supervise exercises, guidelines that recommend stretching and strengthening exercises. The research showed that women, patients who are well educated, and those receiving worker’s compensation were most likely to receive an exercise prescription for neck and back pain.

The study authors recommend further research that might reveal why exercise guidelines for treatment of chronic pain are not being utilized.

The study concluded, "Although exercise prescription provided by PT’s appears to be the most in line with current guidelines, there is much room for improvement by all types of providers who prescribe exercise for patients with chronic back and neck pain.”

Exercise prescription for chronic back or neck pain: Who prescribes it? who gets it? What is prescribed?