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Pain as the only symptom of cervical artery dissection

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Tags: diagnosis, harms, neck, headache, chiropractic, spinal adjustment, random, pain problems, head/neck, spine, head, manual therapy, treatment, controversy, debunkery

Five articles on PainSci cite Arnold 2006: (1) The Complete Guide to Chronic Tension Headaches(2) The Complete Guide to Neck Pain & Cricks(3) What Happened To My Barber?(4) Does Spinal Manipulation Work?(5) When to Worry About Neck Pain … and when not to!

PainSci notes on Arnold 2006:

A study of 245 patients with spontaneous cervical artery dissection found that 20 (8%) of them suffered just one symptom — distinctive pain — even in five who had multiple dissections. It took about a week to diagnose most of them. Only two had neck pain alone, and six had headache alone; twelve had both.

original abstract Abstracts here may not perfectly match originals, for a variety of technical and practical reasons. Some abstacts are truncated for my purposes here, if they are particularly long-winded and unhelpful. I occasionally add clarifying notes. And I make some minor corrections.

BACKGROUND: Headache or neck pain is a frequent symptom of spontaneous cervical artery dissection (sCAD).

PATIENTS AND METHODS: Patients were drawn from an ongoing hospital-based registry of consecutive cases diagnosed with sCAD. Only patients with isolated pain were included in this series. Pain topography, dynamics, severity and quality, imaging findings and outcome were analysed.

RESULTS: 20 of 245 (8%) patients with sCAD presented with pain as the only symptom (mean (SD) age 39 (8) years; 14 (70%) women). Of them, 12 had vertebral artery dissection, 3 had internal carotid dissection and 5 had multiple dissections. The median delay from symptom onset to diagnosis was 7 days (range 4 h to 29 days). 6 patients presented with headache, 2 with neck pain and 12 with both. Onset of headache was progressive in 6, acute in 8 and thunderclap-type in 4 patients; neck pain was progressive in 7 and acute in 7. Headache was throbbing in 13 and constrictive in 5 patients; neck pain was throbbing in 4 and constrictive in 10. Pain was unilateral in 11 and bilateral in 9. Pain was different from earlier episodes in all but one case. All patients were pain free at 3 months.

CONCLUSION: Pain may be the only symptom in sCAD, even when multiple arteries are dissected. Pain topography, dynamics, quality and intensity were heterogeneous. Data from this study lend support to recommendations favouring imaging studies of the cervical arteries in patients with new-onset unexplained headache or neck pain.

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