Study Design. Randomized clinical trial.
Objective. To assess the effectiveness of manual physical therapy and exercise (MTE) for mechanical neck pain with or without unilateral upper extremity (UE) symptoms, as compared to a minimal intervention (MIN) approach.
Summary of Background Data. Mounting evidence supports the use of manual therapy and exercise for mechanical neck pain, but no studies have directly assessed its effectiveness for UE symptoms.
Methods. A total of 94 patients referred to 3 physical therapy clinics with a primary complaint of mechanical neck pain, with or without unilateral UE symptoms, were randomized to receive MTE or a MIN approach of advice, motion exercise, and subtherapeutic ultrasound. Primary outcomes were the neck disability index, cervical and UE pain visual analog scales (VAS), and patient-perceived global rating of change assessed at 3-, 6-, and 52-weeks. Secondary measures included treatment success rates and post-treatment healthcare utilization.
Results. The MTE group demonstrated significantly larger reductions in short- and long-term neck disability index scores (mean 1-year difference −5.1, 95% confidence intervals (CI) −8.1 to −2.1; P = 0.001) and short-term cervical VAS scores (mean 6-week difference −14.2, 95% CI −22.7 to −5.6; P = 0.001) as compared to the MIN group. The MTE group also demonstrated significant within group reductions in short- and long-term UE VAS scores at all time periods (mean 1-year difference −16.3, 95% CI −23.1 to −9.5; P = 0.000). At 1-year, patient perceived treatment success was reported by 62% (29 of 47) of the MTE group and 32% (15 of 47) of the MIN group (P = 0.004).
Conclusion. An impairment-based MTE program resulted in clinically and statistically significant short- and long-term improvements in pain, disability, and patient-perceived recovery in patients with mechanical neck pain when compared to a program comprising advice, a mobility exercise, and subtherapeutic ultrasound.