The effect of neural mobilisation on cervico-brachial pain

Basson, Cato Annalie
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Neck pain is one of the most common debilitating musculoskeletal complaints seen in physiotherapy practice. It is often associated with headache, upper back and shoulder/arm pain (cervico-brachial pain) and such patients are more disabled than patients with neck pain only. Cervico-brachial pain syndrome is an upper quarter pain syndrome in which neural tissue sensitivity to mechanical stimulus is thought to play a role. Neuropathic pain is a problem associated with and prevalent in neck and arm pain. Psychosocial factors, such as fear-avoidance beliefs and catastrophising, have been shown to play an important role in treatment outcomes. Neural mobilisation (NM) is often used to influence the neural structures in conditions with signs of neural involvement or neural mechano-sensitivity. It seems reasonable to use neural mobilisation in cervico-brachial pain as neural structures play an important role in this condition The optimal treatment intervention for cervico-brachial pain is yet to be established. The prevalence of cervico-brachial pain in a South African population is also unknown. Aims of the study The aims of the study were to: i. To establish the prevalence of cervico-brachial pain in patients being seen in physiotherapy practices in Pretoria, South Africa. ii. To establish the effect of neural mobilisation on the pain, function and quality of life of patients with acute and sub-acute cervico-brachial pain. iii. To establish the influence of high catastrophising scores and neuropathic pain on treatment outcomes. iv. To establish the effect of demographic factors on the pain, function and quality of life of patients with cervico-brachial pain. Methods Research Question 1. A retrospective survey of physiotherapy patient records dated 1 January 2011 to 31 December 2011 was conducted. The prevalence of patients with neck pain in relation to other musculoskeletal complaints was calculated and expressed as a percentage. Symptoms recorded included the following; headache, dizziness, pins and needles, feeling of weakness, other sensations, more than one symptom and pain in other area/s. Based on body charts, areas of pain were coded as neck pain only, pain in the shoulder, shoulder and upper arm, shoulder to elbow, lower arm, hand, neck and arm up to wrist, neck and arm including hand. Research Questions 2, 3 and 4 A single blind randomised clinical trial was conducted to establish the effect of neural mobilisation on cervico-brachial pain. The intervention group (IG) received cervical and thoracic mobilisation exercises, advice and NM. The usual care (UC) had the same treatment without NM. Outcomes were assessed at 3 weeks, 6 weeks, 6 months and 12 months. The Numerical Pain Rating Scale was used to determine the effect of NM on pain. The Patient Specific Functional Scale was used to determine the effect of NM on function and the EuroQual5 instrument was used to establish the effect of NM on the quality of life. At 6 weeks the Global Rating of Change was administered to measure patient’s perception of recovery. The Neuropathic Diagnostic Questionnaire (DN4) was used to classify patients with neuropathic pain and the Pain Catastrophising Scale to identify catastrophisers. Results and Discussion Prevalence of neck and radiating arm pain in physiotherapy private practice, Pretoria South Africa The prevalence of neck pain in private physiotherapy practices in Pretoria, SA is high (46.4% of the total musculoskeletal complaints) with radiating arm pain (52.2% of neck pain population) and pain in other areas (22.6% of neck pain population) being commonly associated with neck pain. Furthermore, other symptoms such as headache (25.4% of the neck pain population) and paraesthesia (11.2%) are also frequently present. Neck pain is multi-faceted and this has implications for its management. Future studies with a bigger, representative population sample are needed to establish the prevalence of neck pain in SA. The effect of neural mobilisation on cervico-brachial pain All patients improved significantly in terms of pain, function and quality of life over the 12-month period. However, the IG had significantly less pain than the UC group at 6 months (p=0.03 95% CI 0.96 - 2.03) and this difference was more pronounced in patients with neuropathic pain (IG 2.91 95%CI 1.74 - 4.08 and CG 5.5 95% CI 3.45 - 7.55 p=0.01). There were no significant differences between groups in terms of function or quality of life. Patients with neuropathic pain had significantly more pain at 6 months (positive neuropathic pain 3.71 95%CI 2.57 – 4.84; negative neuropathic pain 1.44 95% CI 0.93 – 1.96 p=0.0001) and 12 months (positive neuropathic pain 3.23 95% CI 1.74 – 4.71; negative neuropathic pain 1.38 95% CI 0.88 – 1.91 p=0.01) compared to those without neuropathic pain. At 12 months function was also negatively affected by the presence of neuropathic pain (positive neuropathic pain 23.91 95%CI 20.96 – 26.86; negative neuropathic pain 27.15 95% CI 25.95 – 28.36 p=0.04). It did not have an effect on quality of life. Catastrophisers had more pain at 6 months (catastrophisers 4.25 95% CI -1.90 – 10.40; non-catastrophisers 1.70 95% CI 1.22 – 2.17 p=0.02) and 12 months (catastrophisers 3.56 95% CI 1.10 – 6.02) compared to non-catastrophisers (1.47 95% CI 0.96 – 1.99 p=0.02). There was no difference in their function at any time, however at baseline they reported a lower quality of life (Catastrophisers 61.96 95% CI 52.04 – 71.87; non-catastrophisers 75.79 95% CI 71.91 – 79.66 p=0.002). Conclusion The addition of NM to cervical and thoracic mobilisation, exercises and advice to stay active, in the management of cervico-brachial pain, resulted in less pain at 6-month follow-up. For patients with neuropathic pain the positive effect was more pronounced. Adding NM as an adjunct to usual care is effective to improve pain for patients with cervico-brachial pain especially for those with a neuropathic pain component. The presence of neuropathic pain and catastrophising resulted in poor pain-related outcomes.
A thesis submitted to the Faculty of Health Sciences, University of the Witwatersrand, in fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy Johannesburg 2017.
Basson, Cato Annalie (2017) The effect of neural mobilisation on cervico-brachial pain, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, <>