Thoracic manipulation by Physical Therapists has previously been shown to improve pain and function in patients with elbow, shoulder, and neck pain. Authors continue to research the mechanisms behind its’ effectiveness including a beneficial cascade of events in the peripheral and central nervous system, as well as, a possible biomechanical change in the spinal joints. Clinically, thoracic manipulation is also utilized in patients with neck and arm pain (cervical radicular pain or cervical radiculopathy). This painful condition is secondary to encroachment of the spinal nerves in the neck as they pass through their respective vertebrae. Patient’s with this condition can experience pain, numbness, and/or pins and needles into their shoulder blade, arm, and hand. If left untreated patients may also notice weakness in their hands. Physical Therapy treatments including manual therapy and exercise aim to improve spacing within the bony neck canals that contain the neck nerves, as well as, optimize movement in the body regions adjacent to the neck to reduce the demands in the affected neck vertebrae. A new recent study highlights the benefits of thoracic manipulation in this patient population.
A randomized controlled trial in the Journal of Orthopedic and Sports Physical Therapy was conducted by Young and colleagues to determine the effectiveness of thoracic manipulation in patients with neck and arm pain (2019). Authors randomized patients to one of two treatment groups including a single session of thoracic manipulation or sham (placebo) manipulation. They assessed immediate and short term (48-72 hours) changes in pain, pain location (centralization), function, neck range of motion and strength. As expected, patients provided with thoracic manipulation reported decreased pain, improved function, and demonstrated improved range of motion at both time points compared to the sham manipulation group.