The effectiveness of conservative treatment for patients with cervical radiculopathy: a systematic review

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


  • Erik J Thoomes
  • Wendy Scholten-Peeters
  • Bart Koes
  • Deborah Falla
  • Arianne P Verhagen

Colleges, School and Institutes

External organisations

  • *Department of General Practice, Erasmus Medical Centre, Rotterdam †Research Group Diagnostics, University of Applied Sciences AVANS, Breda, The Netherlands ‡Pain Clinic, Center for Anesthesiology, Emergency and Intensive Care Medicine, University Hospital Göttingen §Department of Neurorehabilitation Engineering, Bernstein Focus Neurotechnology (BFNT) Göttingen, Bernstein Center for Computational Neuroscience, University Medical Center Göttingen, Georg-August University, Göttingen, Germany.


OBJECTIVES: The aim of this systematic review is to assess the effectiveness of conservative treatments for patients with cervical radiculopathy, a term used to describe neck pain associated with pain radiating into the arm. Little is known about the effectiveness of conservative treatment for patients with cervical radiculopathy.

METHODS: We electronically searched the Cochrane Controlled Trials Register, MEDLINE, EMBASE, and CINAHL for randomized clinical trials. Conservative therapies consisted of physiotherapy, collar, traction etc. Two authors independently assessed the risk of bias using the criteria recommended by the Cochrane Back Review Group and extracted the data. If studies were clinically homogenous, a meta-analysis was performed. The overall quality of the body of evidence was evaluated using the GRADE method.

RESULTS: Fifteen articles were included that corresponded to 11 studies. Two studies scored low risk of bias. There is low-level evidence that a collar is no more effective than physiotherapy at short-term follow-up and very low-level evidence that a collar is no more effective than traction. There is low-level evidence that traction is no more effective than placebo traction and very low level-evidence that intermittent traction is no more effective than continuous traction.

DISCUSSION: On the basis of low-level to very low-level evidence, no 1 intervention seems to be superior or consistently more effective than other interventions. Regardless of the intervention assignment, patients seem to improve over time, indicating a favorable natural course. Use of a collar and physiotherapy show promising results at short-term follow-up.


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1073-86
Number of pages14
JournalClinical Journal of Pain
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2013


  • Humans, Neck Pain, Physical Therapy Modalities, Radiculopathy, Treatment Outcome, Journal Article, Review