Sciatica of the Arm?

01-branch-615SCIATICA OF THE ARM


The great chameleon; the spine. It can mimick any symptom that you are feeling, or believe to be feeling. I can remember my first year in practice treating a patient with an amputation from WWII. He would tell me about his pain in the foot (which was no longer there). This is well before the mirror box studies became popular and the whole Graded Motor Imagery style of treatment. At the time I only knew directional preference and mechanical assessment procedures. Luckily for me, he fit the paradigm. This patient complaining of leg pain, without a leg, responded rapidly to repeated extension in lying.


Many patients will experience neck pain, which also radiates into the shoulder blade, chest, arm or hand region. I know, because I am also one of the 70% that will experience these symptoms in his/her lifetime. It was so bad that I had to go to the ER because I thought I was having a heart attack at the time. It doesn’t matter how much information may be known, chest pain is still no joke. After ruling out a heart attack, I was able to rapidly fix the chest pain through a few sets of cervical exercises.


When a person is experiencing symptoms that radiate into the arm, with associated neurological signs, such as weakness, numbness, or reflex loss, this is called cervical radiculopathy. There is a clinical prediction rule that is very strong for classifying patients with cervical radiculopathy, prior to the patient receiving any type of test, such as an EMG or NCV, while in the clinic.


We as therapists will do well to know the evidence. Whether we fall on the side of Chad Cook regarding CPR’s having little utility until they have been verified or we fall on the side of believing everything that is written, we at least have to respect the information and know it…more knowledge can’t be harmful when we have more options with which to treat patients.


Facts from the following:


Wainner RS, Fritz JM, Irrgang JJ, et al. Reliability and Diagnostic Accuracy of the Clinical Examination and Patient Self-Report Measures for Cervical Radiculopathy. Spine. 2003;28:52-62.



  1. No universally accepted criteria for dx of CS radic have been est (2ndary)
  2. Useful to establish accurate clinical examination findings for a diagnosis of cervical radiculopathy
  3. Purpose of theis study was twofold: to assess the reliability and accuracy of

selected clinical examination findings for the dx of c/s radic using an electophysiologic reference criterion, and to identify and assess the accuracy of an optimum cluster of clinical examination findings for the dx of C/s radic.



  1. 82 patients
  2. eligibility
  3. consecutive patients from 18-70
  4. suspected of CS radic or CTS
  5. Exclusion
  6. systemic disease that causes peripheral neuropathy
  7. primary report of bilateral radiating arm pain
  8. h/o condition affecting the UE interfering with function
  9. no work >=6 m 2nd to symptoms
  10. h/o surgical procedures for pathologies giving rise to neck pain or CTS
  11. Previous EMG and NCS testing for CR and/or CTS
  12. workman’s comp or litigation


patient self report items

  1. VAS
  2. NDI


Standardized Electrophyologic examination procedure

  1. Needle EMG and NCS served as reference criterion for radic


Standardized clinical examination procedure

  1. 34 items performed by examiner one after EMG and NCS
  2. same by examiner two after 10 minute rest to determine reliability
  3. blinded to EMG/NCS/PT 1 results



  1. 6 questions thought to be diagnostic for CR


Conventional Neurologic Examination and Provocative Tests

  1. MMT of C5-T1
  2. Reflex of biceps, brachioradialis, Triceps
  3. absent/reduced, normal, increased
  4. Pin-prick sensation C5-C8


Provocative testing

  1. Spurling test A+B
  2. Shoulder abduction test
  3. Valsalva maneuver
  4. Neck Distraction
  5. ULTT A+B


Cervical ROM

  1. All inclinometer for saggital and frontal and goni for rotation



  1. Prevalence of CR and CTS was 23% and 35%
  2. CPR
  3. ULTTA + (+LR 1.3)
  4. involved cervical rotation < 60 degrees (+ LR 1.8)
  5. distraction test (+LR 4.4)
  6. Spurling A (+LR 3.5)
  7. Two positive: +LR 0.88 PTP: 21%
  8. Three positive: +LR: 6.1 PTP: 65%
  9. All positive: +LR: 30.3 PTP: 90%


Clinical Utility: Three + tests increase the liklihood from 23% to 65%, which makes this cutoff worth looking at clinically. The fact that the PTP with all 4 is 90% is very clinically useful. With experience, I see that there are neurologists and orthopedic spine surgeons utilizing a version of this CPR . I am not aware if the study was read by these clinicians.

Author: Dr. Vince Gutierrez, PT, cert. MDT

After having dedicated 8 years to growing my knowledge regarding the profession of physical therapy, it seems only fitting that I join the social media world in order to spread a little of the knowledge that I have gained over the years. This by no means is meant to act in place of a one-one medical consultation, but only to supplement your baseline knowledge in which to choose a practitioner for your problem. Having completed a Master of Physical Therapy degree, the MDT (Mechanical Diagnosis and Therapy) certification and currently finishing a post-graduate doctorate degree, I have spent the previous 12 years in some sort of post-baccalalaureate study. Hopefully the reader finds the information insightful and uses the information in order to make more informed healthcare decisions. MISSION STATEMENT: My personal mission statement is as follows: As a professional, I will provide a thorough assessment of your clinical presentation and symptoms in order to determine both the provocative and relieving positions and movements. The assessment process and ensuing treatment will be based on current and relevant evidence. Furthermore, I will educate the patients regarding their symptoms and their likelihood of improving with either skilled therapy, an independent exercise program, spontaneous recovery or if the patient should be referred to a separate specialist to possibly provide a more rapid resolution of symptoms. Respecting the patient’s limited resources is important and I will provide an accurate overview of the prognosis within 7 visits, again based on current research. My goal is to empower the patient in order to take charge of both the symptomatic resolution and return to full function with as little dependence on the therapist as possible. Personally, I strive to be an example for family and friends. My goal is to demonstrate that success is not a byproduct of situations, but a series of choices and actions. I will mentor those, in any way possible, that are having difficulty with the choices and actions for success. I will continue to honor my family’s “blue-collar” roots by working to excel at my chosen career and life situations. I choose to be a leader of example, and not words, all the while reducing negativity in my life. I began working towards the professional aspect of the mission statement while still in physical therapy school. By choosing an internship that emphasized patient care and empowering the patient, instead of the internship that was either closest to home or where I knew that I would have the easiest road to graduation, I took the first step towards learning how to utilize the evidence to teach patients how to reduce their symptoms. I continued this process by completing Mechanical Diagnosis and Therapy courses A-D and passing the credentialing exam. I will continue to pursue my clinical education through CEU’s on MDT and my goal is to obtain the status of Diplomat of MDT. Returning back to school for the t-DPT was a major decision for me, as resources (i.e. time and money) are limited. My choice was between saving money for the Dip MDT course (about 15,000 dollars) and continuing on with the Fellowship of American Academy of Orthopedic Manual Physical Therapists (FAAOMPT) (about 5,000 dollars), as these courses are paired through the MDT curriculum or returning to school to work towards a Doctorate of Physical Therapy degree. I initially planned on saving for the Dip MDT and FAAOMPT, but life changes forced me to re-evaluate my situation. The decision then changed to return for the tDPT, as my employer paid for a portion of the DPT program. My goal for applying to and finishing the Dip MDT and FAAOMPT is 10 years. This is how long I anticipate that it will take to finish paying student loans and save for both programs, based on the current rate of payment. I don’t know if I will ever accomplish what I set forth in the mission statement, but I do know that it will be a forever struggle to maintain this standard that I set for myself.

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