February 21, 2017 - Previous research has found that Tai Chi and neck exercises significantly improved chronic non-specific neck pain; however the factors for treatment success remained unclear. Dr. Peter Wayne, a Harvard researcher specialized in the Tai Chi field teamed up with researchers from University of Duisburg-Essen, Essen, Germany, Australian Research Centre in Complementary and Integrative Medicine (ARCCIM), and University of Technology Sydney, to search for the answers.
In their study, people with chronic non-specific neck pain were randomly assigned to 12 weeks of group Tai Chi or conventional neck exercises, and they attended 12 weekly sessions of 60-90 minutes. The interventions included exercises to improve body awareness, i.e. interceptive and postural awareness. A linear forward stepwise regression analysis was conducted to examine associations with improvements in neck pain intensity. Potential predictor variables included baseline pain, age, gender, the type of intervention, attendance rate and home practice duration, and changes in psychological well-being, perceived stress, postural and interceptive awareness during the study.
Overall 75 patients were randomized into Tai Chi or conventional exercises, with the majority being female (78.7%). Participants reported pain intensity ranging from 30.3 mm to 71.1mm VAS at baseline. Regression analysis revealed that reductions in pain intensity from baseline to 12 weeks were predicted by higher pain intensity at baseline, and a decrease in anxiety. An increase in postural awareness explains a total of 40.6% of variance.
The researchers concluded that neck pain improvement was significantly associated with changes in postural awareness in subject with chronic non-specific neck pain independent of treatment characteristics. Training of postural awareness might be an important mechanism of action of different exercise-based interventions for chronic neck pain.
Their findings were published in the journal Spine in January, 2017.