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Aerobic Exercise and Neck Pain

It is very common to have pain in an area and only rehab or focus on that painful area with exercises. Treat the area that is in pain. That's logical, right?

However, adding in moderately intense walking/biking/elliptical exercise has been proven to reduce back pain. Also, those who participate in aerobic exercise routinely are at lower risk to experience neck pain. There is also research that supports this exercise to be beneficial for fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue, and many other diseases.

What is aerobic exercise?

Aerobic exercise is an intensity of exercise that is considered low to moderate (~60% of your age-related maximum heart rate (HR) or "220-Age"). The goal is to challenge the heart and lungs to continue to feed muscles with nutrients for longer periods of time (20 minutes to an hour or longer). May also be heard of as "steady state cardio". Most typically done on a treadmill, elliptical, or bike.

Research says...

Daher et al., in this research, added aerobic exercise to a traditional neck exercise plan and compared it to just the neck exercise plan for 6 weeks. Aerobic exercise started at 60% HRmax for 20 min 2x/week in week 1 and progressed to 45 min, 2x/week in week 6. The neck exercises included stretching and strengthening of the neck, upper back, and shoulders.

They found that adding aerobic exercise to the neck pain treatment plan resulted in a 77.4% success rate compared to 40%, decreased pain, significant reduction in cervicogenic headaches and significant improvements in function and fear avoidance as measured by the Neck Disability Index and Fear Avoidance Belief Questionnaire. These are great results to demonstrate the addition of increasing your heart rate in an exercise session.


"How do I calculate 60% HRmax?"

  • 0.6 x (220-age) = 60% HRmax

"What if I don't have a HR monitor?"

  • Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE) Scale: a 0-10 scale with 10 being the hardest thing you could ever do and don't want to do it again, keep yourself at a 5-6 RPE

  • Talk Test: You should be able to hold a light conversation with a partner. If you're struggling to speak or hold the conversation, the intensity is too high.

Key thoughts:

  • Coming into see us at iBackCheck for neck pain? We're most likely going to incorporate this research in your treatment plan and help improve your overall health.

  • Neck pain or no neck pain, this research shows that aerobic activity is something we should all be participating in 2x/week.

Daher, A., Carel, R. S., Tzipi, K., Esther, H., & Dar, G. (2020). The effectiveness of an aerobic exercise training on patients with neck pain during a short- and long-term follow-up: A prospective double-blind randomized controlled trial. Clinical Rehabilitation, 34(5), 617–629.

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