The objective of this study was to determine the effect of clinical presentations of neck pain on short-term physical therapy outcomesthrough a retrospective analysis of pair-matched groups from a clinical cohort. Patients (N=1069) were grouped by common clinical presentations of neck pain: nonspecific neck pain (NSNP) with duration <4 weeks; NSNP with duration >4 weeks; neck pain with arm pain; neck pain with headache; and neck pain from whiplash. Treatment included conservative interventions provided by physical therapists. The main outcome measures included neck Disability Index (NDI) and numerical pain rating scale (NPRS) recorded at the initial and last visits. The main outcome of interest was achieving recovery status on the NDI. Changes in NDI and NPRS were compared between clinical presentation groups. Compared with patients presenting with NSNP >4 weeks, patients with NSNP <4 weeks had increased odds of achieving recovery status on the NDI (P<.0001) and demonstrated the greatest changes in clinical outcomes of pain (P≤.0001) and disability (P≤.0001). Patients with neck pain and arm pain demonstrated an increased odds of achieving recovery status on the NDI (P=.04) compared with patients presenting with NSNP >4 weeks.
Treating patients with NSNP within <4 weeks of onset of symptoms may lead to improved clinical outcomes from physical therapy compared with other common clinical presentations.