Study design: Randomized clinical trial.
Objectives: To compare the effects of cervical versus thoracic thrust manipulation in patients with bilateral chronic mechanical neck pain on pressure pain sensitivity, neck pain, and cervical range of motion (CROM).
Background: Evidence suggests that spinal interventions can stimulate descending inhibitory pain pathways. To our knowledge, no study has investigated the neurophysiological effects of thoracic thrust manipulation in individuals with bilateral chronic mechanical neck pain, including widespread changes on pressure sensitivity.
Methods: Ninety patients (51% female) were randomly assigned to 1 of 3 groups: cervical thrust manipulation on the right, cervical thrust manipulation on the left, or thoracic thrust manipulation. Pressure pain thresholds (PPTs) over the C5-6 zygapophyseal joint, lateral epicondyle, and tibialis anterior muscle, neck pain (11-point numeric pain rating scale), and cervical spine range of motion (CROM) were collected at baseline and 10 minutes after the intervention by an assessor blinded to the treatment allocation of the patients. Mixed-model analyses of covariance were used to examine the effects of the treatment on each outcome variable, with group as the between-subjects variable, time and side as the within-subject variables, and gender as the covariate. The primary analysis was the group-by-time interaction.
Results: No significant interactions were found with the mixed-model analyses of covariance for PPT level (C5-6, P>.210; lateral epicondyle, P>.186; tibialis anterior muscle, P>.268), neck pain intensity (P = .923), or CROM (flexion, P = .700; extension, P = .387; lateral flexion, P>.672; rotation, P>.192) as dependent variables. All groups exhibited similar changes in PPT, neck pain, and CROM (all, P<.001). Gender did not influence the main effects or the interaction effects in the analyses of the outcomes (P>.10).
Conclusion: The results of the current randomized clinical trial suggest that cervical and thoracic thrust manipulation induce similar changes in PPT, neck pain intensity, and CROM in individuals with bilateral chronic mechanical neck pain. However, changes in PPT and CROM were small and did not surpass their respective minimal detectable change values. Further, because we did not include a control group, we cannot rule out a placebo effect of the thrust interventions on the outcomes.
Level of evidence: Therapy, level 1b.J Orthop Sports Phys Ther 2012;42(9):806-814, Epub 18 June 2012. doi:10.2519/jospt.2012.4151.