The impact of thoracic spine radiographs in the diagnosis and management of patients who present with thoracic spine pain at the chiropractic day clinic at the Durban University of Technology
Myburgh, Hendrik Johannes
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Background: Thoracic spine pain (TSP) is a very common condition and can be just as disabling as cervical and lumbar pain. The causes of thoracic spine pain are numerous, ranging from less serious non-specific mechanical causes to serious specific underlying pathology. Chiropractors used to request routine radiographs as part of their diagnostic work-up, however limited correlation currently exists between radiographical findings and clinical symptoms in non-specific mechanical thoracic spine pain. The overutilization of plain film radiographs worldwide emphasises the need to investigate which clinical conditions in patients with TSP are sent for radiographs and if they were ethically indicated. Literature is currently limited on the role of thoracic spine x-rays and their influence on the management of patients with TSP. Objectives: The objectives of this retrospective study were: 1) to record the consultation at which thoracic spine radiographs were requested by the student or clinician and the reasons therefore, 2) to determine the number of incidental radiographic findings in the selected patients‟ radiographs, 3) to determine the suspected clinical diagnosis and management of the selected patients prior to referral for thoracic spine radiographs, 4) to determine any change in the clinical diagnoses and management following radiographic reporting of the selected patient‟s radiographs, 5) to determine the correlation between the suspected clinical diagnosis and the radiographic diagnosis of patients with thoracic spine pain. Method: The archives of the Chiropractic Day Clinic (CDC) at the Durban University of Technology (DUT) were searched for all available thoracic spine radiographs and corresponding patient files of patients who presented to the clinic with thoracic spine pain from 1 January 1997 to 31 December 2014. The ABCS (Alignment, Bone, Cartilage, Soft tissue) System was utilised to record data of the radiographs without any knowledge of the patient‟s main compliant. The corresponding patient files were then evaluated with selected clinical variables being recorded. Statistical analysis and interpretation included frequency counts, percentages, mean, standard deviation and ranges for the descriptive objectives. The radiographic and clinical diagnoses were then compared in a two-by-two table to determine any possible relationships in diagnoses of patients with thoracic spine pain. Results: Thirty clinical files and their corresponding thoracic spine radiographs were analysed in this study. The mean age of the patients was 43.6 (± 19.1) years with a gender distribution of 40% males and 60% females. Statistical testing using paired t-tests in order to assess the correlation between the clinical and radiological diagnoses was not possible, as the categories were too different. The most frequent primary radiological diagnosis was both old trauma and scoliosis at 33.3%, followed by thoracic spondylosis at 20%. The majority of thoracic spine radiographs were requested at the initial consultation. The most common reasons for radiographic referral were severe, progressive TSP at 58.6%, trauma at 48.3% and persistent, localised TSP for more than four weeks at 37.9%. The diagnosis remained unchanged in 70% of the patients following radiographic examination. However, in 30% of the cases the clinical diagnosis was changed following radiographic examination. Most patients were diagnosed with non-specific mechanical causes of thoracic spine pain. A wide variety of treatment modalities were utilised before and after radiographic examination, including soft tissue therapy, electro modalities, spinal manipulative therapy and dry needling. A total of 66.6% of the patients in the study had changes made to their management protocol following radiographic evaluation. There was a greater use of spinal manipulative therapy, following radiographic evaluation at 56.7% versus only 26.7% of cases prior to radiographic imaging. Conclusion: Thoracic spine radiographs have little impact on the diagnosis and management of patients with thoracic spine pain as the majority of clinical diagnoses were non- specific mechanical causes of thoracic spine pain. Thoracic spine radiographs were influential in the diagnosis and management of 30% of the cases. Thoracic spine radiographs may therefore be over-utilised at the DUT CDC. However, the use of spinal manipulative therapy more than doubled following radiographic evaluation of the thoracic spine in patients with thoracic spine pain.