Last Updated: 2008-01-14 11:59:39 -0400 (Reuters Health)

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) – For women with chronic trapezius myalgia, high-intensity strength training targeting the neck and shoulder muscles provides long-lasting pain relief, new study results show. General fitness training, in contrast, offers little benefit, Danish investigators report in the January issue of Arthritis Care and Research.

The prevalence of chronic neck pain has increased as more workers spend long hours in front of a computer, note Dr. Lars L. Andersen, at the National Research Centre for the Working Environment, Copenhagen, and his colleagues. Although physical exercise is usually recommended, which type of program would be most effective has remained unanswered.

The research team tested two supervised programs: specific strength training using dumbbell exercises (one-arm row, shoulder abduction, shoulder elevation, reverse flies, and upright row), and general fitness training on a bicycle ergometer. The two interventions were administered in 20-minute sessions 3 times a week for 10 weeks, during which time exercise intensity was progressively increased.

Included in the trial were 48 employed women with trapezius myalgia, ages 30 to 60 years, randomly assigned to one of the two training groups or to a control group that received general health counseling.

As rated on a 100-mm visual analog scale at baseline, "general pain" averaged 28 to 35 mm and "worst pain during the last 3 days" averaged 42 to 50 mm.

Over the 10-week intervention period, general pain and worst pain ratings in the specific strength training group decreased by 71% and 79%, respectively. Neither general fitness training nor counseling had any significant, long-term effect on pain.

Furthermore, pain levels among subjects who received targeted strength training remained at a significantly lower level than in the other two groups during a 10-week post-intervention follow-up.

In conclusion, Dr. Andersen and his associates advise that "supervised high-intensity dynamic strength training of the painful muscle 3 times a week for 20 minutes should be recommended in the treatment of trapezius myalgia."

Arthritis Care Res 2008;59:84-91.

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