The purpose of this systematic review was to assess the effectiveness and safety of conservative interventions compared with other interventions, placebo/sham interventions, or no intervention on disability, pain, function, quality of life, and psychological impact in adults with cervical radiculopathy (CR), a painful condition caused by the compression or irritation of the nerves that supply the shoulders, arms and hands.
A multidisciplinary team autors searched MEDLINE, CENTRAL, CINAHL, Embase, and PsycINFO from inception to June 15, 2022 to identify studies that were:
- randomized trials,
- had at least one conservative treatment arm,
- diagnosed participants with CR through confirmatory clinical examination and/or diagnostic tests.
Studies were appraised using the Cochrane Risk of Bias 2 tool and the quality of the evidence was rated using the Grades of Recommendations, Assessment, Development, and Evaluation approach.
Of the 2561 records identified, 59 trials met the inclusion criteria (n = 4108 participants). Due to clinical and statistical heterogeneity, the findings were synthesized narratively.
There is very-low certainty evidence supporting the use of:
- cervical manipulation,
- low-level laser therapy
for pain and disability in the immediate to short-term, and
- thoracic manipulation,
- low-level laser therapy
for improvements in cervical range of motion in the immediate term.
There is low to very-low certainty evidence for multimodal interventions, providing inconclusive evidence for pain, disability, and range of motion.
There is inconclusive evidence for pain reduction after conservative management compared with surgery, rated as very-low certainty.
The authors concluded that there is a lack of high-quality evidence, limiting our ability to make any meaningful conclusions. As the number of people with CR is expected to increase, there is an urgent need for future research to help address these gaps.
Yet, to patients suffering from CR, this is hardly constructive advice. What should they do vis a vis such disappointing evidence?
They might speak to a orthopedic surgeon; but often there is no indication for an operation. What then?
Patients are bound to try some of the conservative options – but which one?
- Cervical manipulation,?
- Low-level laser therapy?
My advice is this: be patient – the vast majority of cases resolves spontaneously regardless of therapy – and, if you are desperate, try any of them except cervical manipulation which is burdened with the risk of serious complications and often makes things worse.