Impact of Neck and Arm Pain on Overall Health Status

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Study Design.

A prospective, multicenter, cross-sectional analysis of data from the National Spine Network database.


To compare the relative impact of radicular and axial symptoms associated with disease of the cervical spine on general health as measured by the SF-36 Health Survey, and to compare the impact of these symptoms among patients of varying age and symptom duration.


Degenerative disorders of the cervical spine can cause debilitating symptoms of neck and arm pain. Physicians generally treat radiculopathy more aggressively than axial neck pain alone, although it has never been shown that the presence of radiculopathy leads to a greater impairment of physical and mental function.

Materials and Methods.

SF-36 Health Survey data were collected from all consenting patients seen within the National Spine Network. Patients with symptoms referable to the cervical spine (as per their physician) were included (n = 1,809). SF-36 scores for all eight scales (bodily pain (BP), vitality (VT), general health (GH), mental health (MH), physical function (PF), role physical (RP), role emotional (RE), and social function (SF), and two summary scales (Physical Component Summary [PCS] and Mental Component Summary [MCS]) were calculated. Age/gender normative scores were subtracted from the scale scores to produce a negative “impact” score, which reflected how far below normal health status these patients were. Patients were grouped according to location of symptoms (axial only, radicular only, or axial and radicular), age (younger than 40, 40 to 60, and older than 60 years), and symptom duration (acute: <6 wk; subacute: 6 wk–6 mo; and chronic: >6 mo). SF-36 scores were compared between all groups using analysis of variance and multiple comparisons with Bonferroni adjustment.


Patients who presented with both axial and radicular symptoms had the lowest SF-36 scores relative to age and gender norms. These scores were significantly lower than those for patients with only axial or only radicular symptoms across all eight subscales (P < 0.05–P < 0.0001). Scores for patients with only axial pain were significantly lower than for patients with only radicular pain for VT (P < 0.04) and GH (P < 0.004). Patients younger than 40 and those between ages 40 to 60 years were significantly more impacted by their symptoms than patients older than 60 years for all eight scales (P < 0.01). PCS scores were similar for acute, subacute, and chronic groups, whereas MCS scores were significantly worse for patients with chronic pain.


Combined neck and arm pain were much more disabling than either symptom alone. Younger patients (younger than 40 or 40–60) were more affected by these symptoms than patients older than 60 years. In addition, as symptom duration increased, a negative impact on mental health was observed, although chronic symptoms did not affect physical health. This study suggests that patients with a significant component of axial pain in conjunction with cervical radiculopathy should be considered the most affected of all patients with cervical spondylosis. Given the evidence that the treatment methods at the disposal of physicians are effective, this study suggests that prompt treatment of these patients may help avoid the harmful effects of chronic symptoms on mental functioning, especially among younger patients who were found to be more impacted by the symptoms.

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