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Man Ther. 2005 May;10(2):154-8. Epub 2004 Oct 5.

Is it time to stop functional pre-manipulation testing of the cervical spine?

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Anglo-European College of Chiropractic, 13-15 Parkwood Road, Bournemouth BH5 2DF, UK.


The combined extended and rotated cervical spine position has been postulated to affect vertebral artery blood flow by primarily causing a narrowing of the vessel lumen, usually within the artery contralateral to the side of head rotation. The production of brainstem symptoms during the manoeuvre has generally been considered to be a positive test result. As a consequence, functional pre-manipulation testing of the cervical spine has been part of clinical screening undertaken by chiropractors and other manual practitioners to rule out the risk of possible injury to the vertebral artery. To date, these testing procedures are taught to students and carried out in daily clinical practice, despite the considerable controversy that exists about their validity. This paper considers and discusses the usefulness of functional pre-manipulation testing for clinical scenarios, involving dissection, spasm or stenosis of the vertebral artery, and makes the following recommendations: (1) Practitioners must assess the patient thoroughly, through careful history taking and physical examination, for the possibility of vertebral artery dissection. It is important to note that vertebral artery dissection (VAD) may present as pain only, and may not be associated with symptoms and signs of brainstem ischaemia. (2) If there is a strong likelihood of VAD, provocative pre-manipulation tests should not be performed, and the patient must be referred appropriately. (3) In the patient presenting with symptoms of brainstem ischaemia due to non-dissection stenotic vertebral artery pathologies, provocative testing is very unlikely to provide any useful additional diagnostic information. (4) In the patient with unapparent vertebral artery pathology, where spinal manipulative therapy (SMT) is considered as the treatment of choice, provocative testing is very unlikely to provide any useful information in assessing the probability of manipulation induced vertebral artery injury.

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