Back, chest and abdominal pain: How good are spinal signs at identifying musculoskeletal causes of back, chest or abdominal pain?
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Background: Spinal signs found in association with atypical chest and abdominal pain may suggest the pain is referred from the thoracic spine. However, the prevalence of such signs in these conditions has rarely been compared with that in those without pain. In this study, the prevalence of spinal signs and dysfunction in patients with back, chest and abdominal pain is compared with that in pain free controls. The aim of the study is to determine the significance of spinal findings in patients with such pain. Methods: A general practitioner blinded to the patients' histories performed a cervical and thoracic spinal examination on general practice patients with back, chest and/or abdominal pain and on controls without pain. Thoracic intervertebral dysfunction was diagnosed on the basis of movement and palpation findings. Results: Seventy three study patients plus 24 controls, were examined. For cervical spinal signs, pain in the back, chest and/or abdomen was associated with pain with active movements and overpressure at end range and with loss of movement range. For thoracic spinal signs, this association held for pain with active movements and overpressure, but not with loss of movement range. The prevalence of thoracic intervertebral dysfunction was 25.0% in controls, 65.5% with chest/abdominal pain, 72.0% with back pain and 79.0% with back pain with chest/abdominal pain. This prevalence was higher with chest pain than with abdominal pain. Conclusions: The results show an association, but not a causal link between thoracic intervertebral dysfunction and atypical chest/abdominal pain. A spinal examination should be performed routinely assessing these conditions. The minimum examination for the detection of intervertebral dysfunction is testing for pain with spinal movements and palpation for tenderness. The interpretation of positive signs requires knowledge of their prevalence in pain free controls and in patients with visceral disease.
Australian Family Physician
© 2001 Australian Family Physician. Reproduced with permission. Permission to reproduce must be sought from the publisher, The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners.
PRE2009-Medical and Health Sciences