The objective of this study was to compare short- and long-term changes in neck muscle endurance, electromyography measures of neck muscle activation and fatigue and ratings of fatigue and pain after neck-specific training or physical activity in people with cervical radiculopathy. Patients underwent neck-specific training in combination with a cognitive behavioural approach or prescribed physical activity over a period of 14 weeks. Immediately after the intervention and 12 months later, surface electromyography was recorded from neck flexor and extensor muscles during neck endurance tests. Time to task failure, amplitude and median frequency of the electromyography signal, and subjective fatigue and pain ratings were analysed in 50 patients who completed at least one follow-up. A significant increase in neck flexor endurance time was observed for both groups at 14 weeks compared with baseline and this was maintained at the 12-month follow-up (p < 0.005). No change was identified for the slope of the median frequency. For the neck-specific training group, splenius capitis was less active during neck flexion at both follow-ups (p < 0.01), indicating reduced muscle co-activation.
Both specific and general exercise increased neck flexor endurance, but neck-specific training only reduced co-activation of antagonist muscles during sustained neck flexion.