Treatment Effect of Postural Awareness Exercises in Patients with Chronic Neck Pain


Numerous studies of patients suffering from chronic neck or back pain have focused on the elements of safety or the effectiveness of clinical interventions in subjects, but a recent study conducted by the Department of Complementary and Integrative Medicine in Essen, Germany highlights the effects of intentional postural awareness on neck discomfort and symptom-related anxiety instead. The results of the 12-week study—which compared the baseline and outcome indicators of small control groups—suggests that the development of body awareness through Tai Chi (or yoga) and neck exercises significantly improve levels of pain intensity and physical function in patients.

Though previous studies had established a connection between postural awareness and a reduction in pain intensity, the new study focused on the varying factors that may have been involved in the improved condition. By utilising the Mantak Chia variation of Yang style Tai Chi and rehabilitative neck exercises designed to stretch and strengthen the neck and core, the study’s instructor introduced interventions that would increase body awareness in the subjects and subsequently reduce their neck pain. Both control groups received instruction on guided imagery, proper breathing, isometric and dynamic mobilisation and posture awareness, as well as basic information on the ergonomics of movement. Participants of both study groups were asked to be aware of their body posture and to adjust it as needed throughout the lesson and at home, when needed.

Subjects Claim Multiple Benefits

The subjects were assessed at the beginning of the study and again after 12 weeks to determine their: level of pain intensity, psychological distress, life stress, sensitivity to the body’s stimuli, postural awareness and control, and connectedness between body and mind. Both control groups reported to have benefitted substantially from increased postural awareness and claimed to experience a “widened” awareness of parts of the body that had previously gone unnoticed. Additionally, the subjects claimed to have found their focus actively turning toward their body postures at home and that they found themselves correcting their stances while walking, sitting, and standing. The participants uniformly claimed to feel better able to affect their own levels of pain and well-being by using the techniques they had learned to observe and modify their posture.

Finally, the subjects in the study found their anxiety levels reduced in accordance with the levels of improvement in pain intensity. The results here indicate a direct correlation between chronic pain and anxiety, whether causal or due to the discomfort. It is apparent anxiety influences chronic pain and vice versa. One may conclude that better health outcomes can be achieved when anxiety levels are moderated through awareness of posture and state-of-being. Being aware of posture is one step in gaining postural control, which reduces the incidence of falls and improves levels of pain, balance, muscle tone and movement. Training a patient with neck pain to recognise and adjust posture for optimum health and wellness is a positive and empowering step in the healing process and may yield psychological as well as physical benefits.

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