A preliminary study comparing the use of cervical/upper thoracic mobilization and manipulation for individuals with mechanical neck pain

J Man Manip Ther. 2015 May;23(2):75-83. doi: 10.1179/2042618614Y.0000000095.


Objectives: Neck pain is routinely managed using manual therapy (MT) to the cervical and thoracic spines. While both mobilizations and manipulations to these areas have been shown to reduce neck pain, increase cervical range of motion, and reduce disability, the most effective option remains elusive. The purpose of this preliminary trial was to compare the pragmatic use of cervical and thoracic mobilizations vs. manipulation for mechanical neck pain.

Methods: This trial included 20 patients with mechanical neck pain. Each patient was randomized to receive either mobilization or manipulation to both the cervical and thoracic spines during their plan of care. Within-group analyses were made with Wilcoxon signed-rank tests and between-group analyses were made with Mann-Whitney U.

Results: There were no between-group differences for any of the dependent variables including cervical active range of motion (CAROM) (P = 0.18), deep cervical flexion (DCF) endurance (P = 0.06), numerical pain rating scale (NPRS) (P = 0.26), the neck disability index (NDI, P = 0.33), patient-specific functional scale (PSFS, P = 0.20), or the global rating of change (GROC) scale (P = 0.94). Within-group results were significant for all outcome variables (P<0.001) from initial evaluation to discharge for both groups.

Discussion: These findings were consistent with other trials previously conducted that applied the MT techniques in a pragmatic fashion, but varied from previous trials where the treatment was standardized. A larger experimental study is necessary to further examine the differences between mobilization and manipulation for neck pain.

Keywords: Manipulation; Mobilizations; Neck pain.