Study design: Resident's case problem.
Background: The role of premanipulative testing of the cervical spine is an area of controversy, and there are very few data to inform and guide practitioners on the use of ligamentous stability tests when assessing the upper cervical spine.
Diagnosis: A 23-year-old female was referred to physical therapy by a neurologist for the management of intractable headaches of possible musculoskeletal origin. Her Neck Disability Index score was 54% and she rated her headache pain from 3/10 to 9/10 on a Numerical Pain Rating Scale. She reported a 2-year history of intermittent lower extremity paresthesias without a known mechanism or current symptoms. She was treated in physical therapy for 11 visits with improvements in cervical range of motion, strength, and intensity of her headaches, but noted no change in the frequency of headaches. She was subsequently referred to the primary author for a second opinion and potential manual therapy interventions. Initial neurological screening examination for upper and lower motor neuron lesions was unremarkable. Assessment of the transverse ligament, using the anterior shear test in supine, brought on paresthesias in both feet and her toes. The paresthesias continued after the cessation of the test. The Sharp-Purser test performed in sitting, immediately after the transverse ligament test, abolished the paresthesias. She was then referred back to her primary care physician for further evaluation. Subsequent radiographs and magnetic resonance imaging revealed that the patient had a C2-C3 Klippel-Feil congenital fusion and os odontoideum. The patient was examined by a neurosurgeon who concluded that she was not a surgical candidate. Her neurological symptoms completely resolved, but she continued to have headaches.
Discussion: Os odontoideum is a clinically important condition, given that the mobile dens may render the transverse ligament incompetent, leading to atlantoaxial instability. Both the role and sequencing of upper cervical ligamentous testing is controversial. The results of this case report suggest that physical therapists should be cognizant of this condition and consider screening the upper cervical ligaments prior to manual or mechanical interventions to this region.
Level of evidence: Differential diagnosis, level 4.