Immediate effects of active cranio-cervical flexion exercise versus passive mobilisation of the upper cervical spine on pain and performance on the cranio-cervical flexion test

This study compared the immediate effects of an assisted plus active cranio-cervical flexion exercise (exercise group) to those of a passive mobilisation plus assisted cranio-cervical flexion (mobilisation group) on performance of the cranio-cervical flexion test (CCFT), cervical range of motion (ROM) and pain in patients with chronic neck pain. Eighteen volunteers with chronic idiopathic neck pain took part in the study and were randomised to one of the two intervention groups. Current level of pain, cervical ROM and pain perceived during movement, pressure pain threshold (PPT) and surface electromyography (EMG) during performance of the CCFT were measured prior to and immediately following the intervention. A significant decrease in resting pain and PPT measured over cervical sites was observed immediately following both interventions, however a greater change was observed for the exercise group. No change in cervical ROM was observed after either intervention. Reduced sternocleidomastoid and anterior scalene EMG amplitude were observed during stages of the CCFT but only for the participants in the active exercise group.

They concluded that while both active and passive interventions provided pain relief, only the exercise group improved on a task of motor function drawing attention to the importance of specific active treatment for improved motor control of the cervical spine.