Manual Therapy

Volume 26, December 2016, Pages 87-96
Manual Therapy

Original article
Subjective and clinical assessment criteria suggestive for five clinical patterns discernible in nonspecific neck pain patients. A Delphi-survey of clinical experts


A Delphi-study on clinical criteria in nonspecific neck pain patients was performed.

5 dysfunction patterns, based on pain mechanisms, were used to subgroup patients.

36 subjective and 38 physical examination criteria reached a 85% consensus level.

The criteria can guide future reliability studies to ascertain the diagnostic value.



Nonspecific neck pain patients form a heterogeneous group with different musculoskeletal impairments. Classifying nonspecific neck pain patients into subgroups based on clinical characteristics might lead to more comprehensive diagnoses and can guide effective management.


To establish consensus among a group of experts regarding the clinical criteria suggestive of a clinical dominance of ‘articular’, ‘myofascial’, ‘neural’, ‘central’ and ‘sensorimotor control’ dysfunction patterns distinguishable in patients with nonspecific neck pain.

Study design

Delphi study.


A focus group with 10 academic experts was organized to elaborate on the different dysfunction patterns discernible in neck pain patients. Consecutively, a 3-round online Delphi-survey was designed to obtain consensual symptoms and physical examination findings for the 5 distinct dysfunction patterns resulting from the focus group.


A total of 21 musculoskeletal physical therapists from Belgium and the Netherlands experienced in assessing and treating neck pain patients completed the 3-round Delphi-survey. Respectively, 33 (response rate, 100.0%), 27 (81.8%) and 21 (63.6%) respondents replied to rounds 1, 2 and 3. Eighteen ‘articular’, 16 ‘myofascial’, 20 ‘neural’, 18 ‘central’ and 10 ‘sensorimotor control’ clinical indicators reached a predefined ≥80% consensus level.


These indicators suggestive of a clinical dominance of ‘articular’, ‘myofascial’, ‘neural’, ‘central’, and ‘sensorimotor control’ dysfunction patterns may help clinicians to assess and diagnose patients with nonspecific neck pain. Future validity testing is needed to determine how these criteria may help to improve the outcome of physical therapy interventions in nonspecific neck pain patients.


Cervical spine
Clinical reasoning
Clinical patterns
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