Patients who suffer from back and neck injuries may need to undergo several different types of corrective care exercises, many of which might not have the positive results patients are seeking. While medical professionals may utilize a trial-and-error approach to these corrective care exercises, a new study reveals that physical therapists may be able to use a clinical prediction rule (CPR) to determine which patients are most likely to benefit from cervical traction and exercise. Researchers suggest that this CPR will make it much easier for clinicians to design effective exercise treatments that could have a positive impact on patients suffering from neck pain.

In a study released by the Brooke Army Medical Center at Fort Sam Houston, Texas, eighty patients who suffered from neck pain received a standard examination and then underwent six sessions of cervical traction and strengthening exercises over the course of three weeks (sessions were held twice weekly). At the end of the study, patients were asked to assess their perceived recovery. Out of sixty-eight patients, 30 were reported to have a successful outcome, in which they reported their neck pain to be “a great deal better” or “a very great deal better.”

Throughout the study, researchers carefully examined patients to determine an ideal CPR assessment. The study concluded that clinicians could predict which patients will experience positive benefits from cervical traction and exercises via the five following variables:

  • Patients reported peripheralization with lower cervical spine mobility testing;
  • Patients demonstrated positive shoulder abduction;
  • Patients were 55 years or older in age;
  • Patients demonstrated positive upper limb tension tests; and
  • Patients demonstrated positive neck distraction tests.

Using these five variables, clinicians can help determine if patients could potentially experience positive therapeutic outcomes associated with cervical traction and related neck exercises. Additionally, researchers concluded that having at least three out of the five CPR variables increased the likelihood of success from cervical traction from 44 to 79.2%. Patients who demonstrated four out of five CPR variables have a likelihood of success from cervical traction increase to 94.8%.

While several studies need to be conducted to strengthen the arguments of this new CPR model, the conclusions have successfully demonstrated that clinicians can predict with increasing success which patients could benefit the most from cervical traction and other related exercises.

As reported in Volume 38, Number 4, pp 300–307 of Spine.