Headache is a common and costly health problem. Although pathogenesis of headache is heterogeneous, one reported contributing factor is dysfunction of the upper cervical spine. The flexion rotation test (FRT) is a commonly used diagnostic test to detect upper cervical movement impairment. The aim of this cross-sectional study was to investigate concurrent validity of detecting high cervical ROM impairment during the FRT by comparing measurements established by an ultrasound-based system (gold standard) with eyeball estimation. Secondary aim was to investigate intra-rater reliability of FRT ROM eyeball estimation. The examiner (6 years experience) was blinded to the data from the ultrasound-based device and to the symptoms of the patients. FRT test result (positive or negative) was based on visual estimation of range of rotation less than 34° to either side. Concurrently, range of rotation was evaluated using the ultrasound-based device. A total of 43 subjects with headache (79% female), mean age of 35.05 years (SD 13.26) were included. According to the International Headache Society Classification 23 subjects had migraine, 4 tension type headache, and 16 multiple headache forms. Sensitivity and specificity were 0.96 and 0.89 for combined rotation, indicating good concurrent reliability. The area under the ROC curve was 0.95 (95% CI 0.91-0.98) for rotation to both sides. Intra-rater reliability for eyeball estimation was excellent with Fleiss Kappa 0.79 for right rotation and left rotation. The results of this study indicate that the FRT is a valid and reliable test to detect impairment of upper cervical ROM in patients with headache.
Keywords: Cervical Spine; flexion rotation test; headache; range of motion; validity.