There are few known studies investigating the correlation of symptomatology with the specific subtypes of cervical spine degenerative joint disease demonstrated on radiograph. The aim of this study was to assess the correlation and diagnostic test accuracy of specific symptoms in determining the presence, type and severity of degenerative joint disease on radiograph.
A retrospective cross-sectional design was used to correlate cervical radiographic findings with neck pain and related symptomatology. Radiographs of 322 patients from April 2010 to June 2012 were assessed and evidence of radiographic cervical degenerative joint disease was extracted. Clinical data for each patient was obtained from their patient files including: pain using a VAS, presence of neck stiffness, presence of headaches, presence of shoulder referral, presence of hand radiculopathy and presence of hand numbness. Measures of diagnostic test accuracy and regression analysis were used to assess for any correlation between symptoms and radiographic findings.
Referral of pain to the shoulder and neck stiffness showed small degrees of correlation with cervical degenerative joint disease, however, these correlations were not maintained when age was accounted for. Only age showed consistent statistical significance as a predictor for degree of disc degeneration (correlation coefficient (95% confidence interval): 0.06 (0.055, 0.066)); the presence of facet hypertrophy (odds ratio (95% confidence interval): 1.12 (1.09, 1.15)); or uncinate process hypertrophy (odds ratio (95% confidence interval): 1.15 (1.12, 1.18)). Neck stiffness demonstrated a small degree of diagnostic test accuracy for the degree of cervical disc degeneration (area under the curve (95%CI): 0.62 (0.56, 0.68)) and the presence of either facet (diagnostic OR (95%CI):1.69 (1.04, 2.76)) and uncinated process hypertrophy (LR+ (95%CI): 1.17 (1.00, 1.38)).
The results of this study indicate that clinical symptoms such as pain level, headaches, shoulder referral and hand radiculopathy or numbness are not reliably correlated with radiographic findings of degenerative joint disease in the cervical spine. A small increase in diagnostic accuracy between the presence of neck stiffness and all forms of cervical degenerative joint disease is shown, however, this increase is not at the level expected to change clinical practice.