Neck disability in patients with cervical radiculopathy and evaluation of structured postoperative physiotherapy
Abstract: Non-surgical and surgical approaches to treatment are used in patients with cervical radiculopathy (CR) due to disc disease. Overall, good effects of surgery have been reported on arm pain and neurological symptoms. However, the effects on neck functioning are more uncertain. Studies have shown persistent activity limitations; participation restrictions; and impairments in neck-related body functions after surgery. Structured physiotherapy combining neck-specific exercises with a behavioural approach has been suggested as treatment before as well as after surgery to improve clinical outcomes in patients with CR. Randomized clinical trials of postoperative physiotherapy to inform evidence-based clinical guidelines for the treatment of patients with CR are lacking.The overall aim of the thesis was to investigate the additional benefit of structured postoperative physiotherapy combining neck-specific exercises with a behavioural approach compared to standard postoperative approach in patients with CR. A further aim was to evaluate the contribution of different aspects of neck-related body functions and mental functions on preoperative neck disability in these patients.A total of 202 patients with CR who were scheduled for surgery were recruited, and randomized preoperatively to either structured postoperative physiotherapy, or standard postoperative approach. Standard postoperative approach was in accordance with Swedish postoperative care, and may have included pragmatic physiotherapy after surgery when needed. Patients were evaluated with a set of questionnaires and clinical examinations before surgery and at 3 and 6 months after surgery. Outcomes included patient-reported measures of pain, neck functioning, global outcome, clinical evaluation of neckrelated body functions, self-efficacy and coping strategies, as well as expectation fulfilment and enablement. Differences between treatment groups were investigated in complete case and per-protocol approaches (Paper III & IV). A sub-sample of patients with CR who were scheduled for surgery were also compared with neck-healthy individuals for assessment of head repositioning accuracy with a cervical range of motion device (Paper I). In patients with CR who were scheduled for surgery, associations between preoperative measures of neck-related body functions, mental functions, and other contextual factors with patientreported neck disability were studied (Paper II).With the exception of greater expectation fulfilment in patients who received structured postoperative physiotherapy (p = 0.01), there were no differences between the treatment groups in outcomes at 6 months after surgery. There were no differences reported for changes in outcomes from before surgery to 6 months after surgery between the groups, but all outcomes significantly improved from baseline in both groups (p<0.001) (Paper III & IV). However, global outcome and frequency of neck pain improved during the postoperative period only in patients who received structured postoperative physiotherapy (p< 0.01) (Paper III). Six months after surgery, patients with at least 50% attendance to treatment sessions in the structured postoperative physiotherapy group reported less neck pain frequency (p = 0.05), and greater expectation fulfilment (p = 0.001), and enablement (p = 0.04) than those who received standard postoperative approach. These patients also had larger improvements in neck functioning, arm pain and catastrophizing during the rehabilitation period from 3 to 6 months after surgery (p< 0.03). Sixty-one percent of the patients who received standard postoperative approach reported additional use ofpostoperative physiotherapy. These patients had a worse surgical outcome compared with patients who reported no additional use of postoperative physiotherapy. In patients with CR who were scheduled for surgery, larger errors in head repositioning accuracy were found compared to neck-healthy individuals (Paper I). Preoperative measures of neck-related body functions, mental functions and other contextual factors explained 73% of the variance in Neck Disability Index scores in patients with CR who were scheduled for surgery (Paper II).The results may suggest a benefit from combining surgery with structured postoperative physiotherapy in patients with CR. Moreover, the results confirm that neck-specific exercises are tolerated by patients with CR after surgery. However, CR is a heterogeneous condition and specific subgroups of patients are likely to benefit from different interventions. More studies are needed to inform evidence-based clinical guidelines for the treatment of patients with CR. A broader preoperative assessment in patients with CR improved the description of patient-reported neck disability.
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