Should we abandon cervical spine manipulation for mechanical neck pain? Yes

BMJ 2012; 344 doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.e3679 (Published 7 June 2012)
Cite this as: BMJ 2012;344:e3679

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  1. Benedict M Wand, associate professor1,
  2. Peter J Heine, research fellow2,
  3. Neil E O’Connell, lecturer3
  1. 1School of Physiotherapy, University of Notre Dame Australia, 19 Mouat Street, Fremantle, WA 6959, Australia
  2. 2Warwick Clinical Trials Unit, Division of Health Sciences, University of Warwick, Coventry, UK
  3. 3Centre for Research in Rehabilitation, Brunel University, Uxbridge, UK
  1. Correspondence to N E O’Connell neil.oconnell{at}brunel.ac.uk

Benedict Wand and colleagues argue that the risks of cervical spine manipulation are not justified, but David Cassidy and colleagues (doi:10.1136/bmj.e3680) think it is a valuable addition to patient care

Cervical spine manipulation (a high velocity, low amplitude, end range thrust manoeuvre) is a common treatment option for mechanical neck pain yet may carry the potential for serious neurovascular complications, specifically vertebral artery dissection and subsequent vertebrobasilar stroke. The non-superiority of manipulation to alternative treatments, coupled with concerns regarding safety, renders cervical spine manipulation unnecessary and inadvisable.

The controversy surrounding the association between manipulation and neurovascular complications is longstanding and not fully resolved, partly because it is difficult to obtain conclusive evidence on rare adverse events. What can be accepted is that the incidence of vertebral artery dissection is low, with estimates between 1 (95% confidence interval 0.5 to 1.4) and 1.7 (1.1 to 2.3) per 100 000 person years in the United States.1 The estimates for stroke resulting from vertebral artery dissection are lower still, ranging from 0.75 to 1.12 per 100 000 person years,2 and many are unlikely to be the result of cervical …

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