Differential changes in muscle composition exist in traumatic and nontraumatic neck pain

Spine (Phila Pa 1976). 2014 Jan 1;39(1):39-47. doi: 10.1097/BRS.0000000000000033.


Study design: A population based cross-sectional study.

Objective: To clarify relative constituents of viable muscle in 2-dimensional cross-sectional area (CSA) measures of ventral and dorsal cervical muscles in patients with chronic whiplash-associated disorders (WAD), idiopathic neck pain, and healthy controls.

Summary of background data: Previous data using T1-weighted magnetic resonance image demonstrated large amounts of neck muscle fat infiltration and increased neck muscle CSA in patients with chronic WAD but not in idiopathic neck pain or healthy controls.

Methods: Magnetic resonance images were obtained for 14 cervical muscle regions in 136 females, including 79 with chronic whiplash, 23 with chronic idiopathic neck pain, and 34 healthy controls.

Results: Without fat removed, relative CSA of 7 of 14 muscle regions in the participants with chronic WAD was larger, 3 of 14 smaller and 4 of 14 similar to healthy individuals. When T1-weighted signal representing the lipid content of these muscles was removed, 8 of 14 relative muscle CSA in patients with whiplash were similar, 5 of 14 were smaller and only 1 of 14 was larger than those observed in healthy controls. Removal of fat from the relative CSA measurement did not alter findings between participants with idiopathic neck pain and healthy controls.

Conclusion: These findings clarify that previous reports of increased relative CSA in patients with chronic whiplash represent cervical muscle pseudohypertrophy. Relative muscle CSA measures reveal atrophy in several muscles in both patients with WAD and idiopathic neck pain, which supports inclusion of muscle conditioning in the total management of these patients.

Level of evidence: 3.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Neck Muscles / injuries
  • Neck Muscles / pathology*
  • Neck Pain / etiology
  • Neck Pain / pathology*
  • Whiplash Injuries / complications
  • Whiplash Injuries / pathology*
  • Young Adult