Clinical characteristics and outcomes of treatment of cervical spine in patients with chronic post-concussion symptoms

Concussion is typically defined as a mild brain injury, and yet the brain is unlikely to be the only source of persistent post-concussion symptoms. Concurrent injury to the cervical spine in particular is acknowledged as a potential source of common persistent symptoms such as headache, dizziness and neck pain.

The objective of this study was to describe the cervical spine findings and outcomes of treatment in a series of patients with persistent post-concussion symptoms, and describe the clinical characteristics of a cervicogenic component when it is present. This was achieved through retrospective chart review of a consecutive series of patients with concussion referred to a physiotherapist for cervical spine assessment.

Patient charts for all patients over a calendar year referred by a concussion service provider to a physiotherapist for cervical spine assessment were de-identified and transferred to the research team. Clinical data were independently extracted by two research assistants and analysed using descriptive statistics.

Data were analysed from 46 patient charts. Those with a cervicogenic component (n = 32) were distinguished from those without a cervicogenic component (n = 14) by physical examination findings, particularly pain on manual segmental examination. Physiotherapy treatment of the cervicogenic component (n = 21) achieved improvements in function (mean increase of 3.8 in the patient-specific functional scale), and pain (mean decrease of 4.6 in the numeric pain-rating scale). The clinical characteristics described give preliminary support to the idea that the cervical spine may contribute to persistent post-concussion symptoms, and highlight the value of physiotherapy assessment and treatment of the cervical spine following a concussive injury.