A guide to identify cervical autonomic dysfunctions (and associated conditions) in patients with musculoskeletal disorders in physical therapy practice

Firas Mourad, Andrea Giudice, Giorgio Maritati, Filippo Maselli, Rik Kranenburg, Alan Taylor, Roger Kerry, Nathan Hutting

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


BACKGROUND: Differential diagnosis is a hot topic in physical therapy, especially for those working in a direct access setting dealing with neck pain and its associated disorders. All international guidelines agree in recommending to first rule out non-musculoskeletal pathologies as the cause of signs and symptoms in the patient. Although the autonomic nervous system (ANS) has a crucial role and is also involved in pain conditions, coverage of it in neuroscience textbooks and educational programmes is limited and most healthcare professionals are unfamiliar with it. Although autonomic conditions are benign in nature, they are clinically of great importance as they may be a 'red flag' warning of an injury along the sympathetic pathway. Therefore, sound knowledge of the ANS system is essential for clinicians.

OBJECTIVE: To develop physical therapists' knowledge of and confidence in understanding cervical ANS function and dysfunction, thus enhancing clinical reasoning skills and the pattern recognition process, and performing and interpreting objective examinations.

METHODS: This master class provides an introductory guide and essential knowledge to facilitate clinicians to understand cervical autonomic dysfunctions and their clinical evaluation. The optimal referral method is also handled.

CONCLUSIONS: Gaining knowledge and understanding of the ANS, its function, its dysfunction, and the related clinical manifestations is likely to lead to a decision-making process driven by 'science and conscience'. This will empower physical therapists to be aware of subtle clues that may be offered by patients during the interview and history intake leading to the appropriate physical examination and triage.

Translated title of the contributionEen gids voor het identificeren van cervicale autonome disfuncties (en daarmee samenhangende aandoeningen) bij patiënten met aandoeningen aan het bewegingsapparaat in de fysiotherapiepraktijk
Original languageEnglish
Article number100495
JournalBrazilian Journal of Physical Therapy
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2023


  • humans
  • autonomic nervous system
  • physical examination
  • neck pain
  • musculoskeletal diseases
  • physical therapy modalities


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