Background: Acute chest pain is a major health problem all over the western world. Active approaches are directed towards diagnosis and treatment of potentially life threatening conditions, especially acute coronary syndrome/ischemic heart disease. However, according to the literature, chest pain may also be due to a variety of extra-cardiac disorders including dysfunction of muscles and joints of the chest wall or the cervical and thoracic part of the spine. The diagnostic approaches and treatment options for this group of patients are scarce and formal clinical studies addressing the effect of various treatments are lacking.
Methods/design: We present an ongoing trial on the potential usefulness of chiropractic diagnosis and treatment in patients dismissed from an acute chest pain clinic without a diagnosis of acute coronary syndrome. The aims are to determine the proportion of patients in whom chest pain may be of musculoskeletal rather than cardiac origin and to investigate the decision process of a chiropractor in diagnosing these patients; further, to examine whether chiropractic treatment can reduce pain and improve physical function when compared to advice directed towards promoting self-management, and, finally, to estimate the cost-effectiveness of these procedures. This study will include 300 patients discharged from a university hospital acute chest pain clinic without a diagnosis of acute coronary syndrome or any other obvious cardiac or non-cardiac disease. After completion of the clinic's standard cardiovascular diagnostic procedures, trial patients will be examined according to a standardized protocol including a) a self-report questionnaire; b) a semi-structured interview; c) a general health examination; and d) a specific manual examination of the muscles and joints of the neck, thoracic spine, and thorax in order to determine whether the pain is likely to be of musculoskeletal origin. To describe the patients status with regards to ischemic heart disease, and to compare and indirectly validate the musculoskeletal diagnosis, myocardial perfusion scintigraphy is performed in all patients 2-4 weeks following discharge. Descriptive statistics including parametric and non-parametric methods will be applied in order to compare patients with and without musculoskeletal chest pain in relation to their scintigraphic findings. The decision making process of the chiropractor will be elucidated and reconstructed using the CART method. Out of the 300 patients 120 intended patients with suspected musculoskeletal chest pain will be randomized into one of two groups: a) a course of chiropractic treatment (therapy group) of up to ten treatment sessions focusing on high velocity, low amplitude manipulation of the cervical and thoracic spine, mobilisation, and soft tissue techniques. b) Advice promoting self-management and individual instructions focusing on posture and muscle stretch (advice group). Outcome measures are pain, physical function, overall health, self-perceived treatment effect, and cost-effectiveness.
Discussion: This study may potentially demonstrate that a chiropractor is able to identify a subset of patients suffering from chest pain predominantly of musculoskeletal origin among patients discharged from an acute chest pain clinic with no apparent cardiac condition. Furthermore knowledge about the benefits of manual treatment of patients with musculoskeletal chest pain will inform clinical decision and policy development in relation to clinical practice.