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J Orthop Sports Phys Ther. 2009 Jun;39(6):428-38. doi: 10.2519/jospt.2009.2954.

Effects of upper extremity neural mobilization on thermal pain sensitivity: a sham-controlled study in asymptomatic participants.

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Department of Physical Therapy, University of Florida, Gainesville, FL 32610-0154, USA.



A single-blinded, quasi-experimental, within- and between-sessions assessment.


To investigate potential mechanisms of neural mobilization (NM), using tensioning techniques in comparison to sham NM on a group of asymptomatic volunteers between the ages of 18 and 50.


NM utilizing tensioning techniques is used by physical therapists in the treatment of patients with cervical and/or upper extremity symptoms. The underlying mechanisms of potential benefits associated with NM tensioning techniques are unknown.


Participants (n = 62) received either a NM or sham NM intervention 2 to 3 times a week for a total of 9 sessions, followed by a 1-week period of no intervention to assess carryover effects. A-delta (first pain response) and C-fiber (temporal summation) mediated pain perceptions were tested via thermal quantitative sensory testing procedures. Elbow extension range of motion (ROM) and sensory descriptor ratings were obtained during a neurodynamic test for the median nerve. Data were analyzed with repeated-measures analysis of variance (ANOVA).


No group differences were seen for A-delta mediated pain perception at either immediate or carryover times. Group differences were identified for immediate C-fiber mediated pain perception (P = .032), in which hypoalgesia occurred for the NM group but not the sham NM group. This hypoalgesic effect was not maintained at carryover (P = .104). Group differences were also identified for the 3-week and carryover periods for elbow extension ROM (P = .004), and for the participant sensory descriptor ratings (P = .018), in which increased ROM and decreased sensory descriptor ratings were identified in participants in the NM group but not the sham NM group.


This study provides preliminary evidence that mechanistic effects of tensioning NM differ from sham NM for asymptomatic participants. Specifically, NM resulted in immediate, but not sustained, C-fiber mediated hypoalgesia. Also, NM was associated with increased elbow ROM and a reduction in sensory descriptor ratings at 3-week and carryover assessment times. These differences provide potentially important information on the mechanistic effects of NM, as well as the description of a sham NM for use in future clinical trials.

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