An Evidence-Based Approach to the Neck Assessment


Dr. Julia Alleyne, BHSc(PT), MD, CCFP, Dip. Sport Med MScCH1 Pierre Côté, DC, PhD2 Dr. Hamilton Hall, MD, FRCSC3

1is a Family Physician practising Sport and Exercise Medicine at the Toronto Rehabilitation Institute, University Health Network. She is appointed at the University of Toronto, Department of Family and Community Medicine as an Associate Clinical Professor. 2Professor and Canada Research Chair in Disability Prevention and Rehabilitation, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Ontario Institute of Technology (UOIT); Director, UOIT-CMCC Centre for Disability Prevention and Rehabilitation, University of Ontario Institute of Technology (UOIT) and Canadian Memorial Chiropractic College (CMCC). 3 is a Professor in the Department of Surgery at the University of Toronto. He is the Medical Director, CBI Health Group and Executive Director of the Canadian Spine Society in Toronto, Ontario.


Abstract:Neck pain is a common musculoskeletal condition that frequently resolves spontaneously or with conservative treatment and only occasionally requires surgical intervention. The purpose of the neck examination is to determine if the etiology is neurological or mechanical pain, which determines treatment planning, and then to rule out red flags. There is good evidence that on examination clinicians cannot reliably differentiate specific anatomical structures but they should still perform a focused clinical examination to locate typical pain on movement and establish the neurological status. Base treatment on exercise, activity management and pain control.
Key Words: neck, examination, treatment, differential diagnosis.

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If your patient is presenting with symptoms of systemic disease, deteriorating neurological status or focal severe pain, initiate further investigations and or referral.
Once red flags have been ruled out, neck pain will fall into two categories: neurological or mechanical pain.
Range of Motion testing should be done in 3 specific planes; flexion-extension, lateral flexion and rotation. Moving the neck in circles does not provide useful clinical information.
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