Muscle dysfunction in cervical spine pain: implications for assessment and management

J Orthop Sports Phys Ther. 2009 May;39(5):324-33. doi: 10.2519/jospt.2009.2872.


Synopsis: There is irrefutable evidence of an association between mechanical neck pain (MNP) and dysfunction of the muscles of the cervical spine. A myriad of impairments have been demonstrated that include changes in the physical structure (cross-sectional area, fatty infiltration, fiber type), as well as changes in behavior (timing and activation level), of the cervical muscles. Such changes suggest an impaired capacity of the cervical muscles to generate, sustain, and maintain precision of the required levels of torque needed for optimal function. In the context of physical support, these changes potentially have deleterious consequences for the cervical region, which relies heavily on its muscles for mechanical stability. While interventions focused on the retraining of cervical muscle function have shown favorable responses in alleviating MNP, the development of best practice strategies for the assessment and management of cervical muscle dysfunction is still a work in progress. One obstacle in researching the efficacy of cervical muscle training is that, as yet, we do not possess the capacity to optimally measure and classify those patients most likely to respond to different methods of training that would enrich clinical practice. While gains in this area are emerging, the ability of a clinician to best identify the need and implement the most appropriate method of training cervical muscle function is still largely dependent on a comprehensive examination of the patient that considers all aspects of the patient's disorder and functional requirements.

Level of evidence: Level 5.

MeSH terms

  • Cervical Vertebrae / physiopathology*
  • Exercise Therapy / methods*
  • Humans
  • Neck Injuries / physiopathology*
  • Neck Injuries / rehabilitation
  • Neck Muscles / pathology
  • Neck Muscles / physiopathology*
  • Neck Pain / physiopathology*
  • Neck Pain / rehabilitation