Proposal of a classification system for patients with neck pain

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It is likely that patients with neck pain are not a homogeneous group, but, instead, consist of a variety of subgroups, each of which may benefit from a specific intervention matched to the patient's signs and symptoms. Studies to date have largely failed to account for this possibility, which may compromise the statistical power of research and ultimately fail to provide guidance for clinical decision making. Classification provides a means of breaking down a larger entity into more homogeneous subgroups of patients, based on examination data. Classification can guide the determination of a patient's prognosis, and the selection of the most appropriate intervention strategy. Classification has received considerable attention in the management of patients with low back pain, and evidence is emerging regarding its benefits. There has been considerably less effort made towards examining classification as it pertains to patients with neck pain. The purpose of this clinical commentary is to examine the current literature and to propose a classification system for patients with neck pain, based on the overall goal of treatment. The approach is based on published evidence when possible and is also informed by clinical experience and expert opinion. Classification decisions are based on the integration of data from a variety of information from the history and physical examination. The end result of the classification process is to determine the treatment approach believed to be most likely to maximize the clinical outcome for an individual patient with neck pain.

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