Comparison of 2 Manual Therapy and Exercise Protocols for Cervical Radiculopathy: A Randomized Clinical Trial Evaluating Short-Term Effects

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Abstract

STUDY DESIGN:

Participant- and assessor-blinded randomized clinical trial.

OBJECTIVES:

To compare a rehabilitation program thought to increase the size of the intervertebral foramen (IVF) of the affected nerve root to a rehabilitation program that doesn't include any specific techniques thought to increase the size of the IVF in patients presenting with cervical radiculopathy (CR).

BACKGROUND:

Clinical approaches for the treatment of CR commonly include exercises and manual therapy techniques thought to increase the size of the IVF, but evidence regarding the effectiveness of these specific manual therapy techniques is scarce.

METHODS:

Thirty-six participants with CR were randomly assigned either to a group that received a manual therapy and exercise program aimed at increasing the size of the IVF of the affected nerve root (experimental group, n = 18) or to a group that received a manual therapy and exercise program without the specific goal of increasing the size of the IVF of the affected level and side (comparison group, n = 18). Primary (Neck Disability Index) and secondary (shortened version of the Disabilities of the Arm, Shoulder and Hand questionnaire [QuickDASH] and numeric pain-rating scale) outcomes were evaluated at baseline, at the end of the 4-week program (week 4), and 4 weeks later (week 8). A mixed-model, 2-way analysis of variance was used to analyze treatment effects.

RESULTS:

No significant group-by-time interaction or group effect was observed for Neck Disability Index, QuickDASH, and numeric pain-rating scale scores (P≥.14) following the intervention. However, both groups showed statistically and clinically significant improvement from baseline to week 4 and to week 8 in Neck Disability Index, QuickDASH, and numeric pain-rating scale scores (P<.05).

CONCLUSION:

Results suggest that manual therapy and exercises are effective in reducing pain and functional limitations related to CR. The addition of techniques thought to increase the size of the IVF of the affected nerve root yielded no significant additional benefits. Given the absence of a “no treatment” group, a spontaneous resolution of symptoms cannot be excluded. However, the magnitude of improvement makes spontaneous resolution unlikely. The trial was registered at ClinicalTrials.gov (NCT01500044).

LEVEL OF EVIDENCE:

Therapy, level 1b-. J Orthop Sports Phys Ther 2015;45(1):4-17. Epub 24 Nov 2014.

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