Changes in Muscle Morphology in Female Chronic Neck Pain Patients Using Magnetic Resonance Imaging

Eveline Van Looveren, Barbara Cagnie, Iris Coppieters, Mira Meeus, Robby De Pauw

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


STUDY DESIGN: Population-based cross-sectional study.

OBJECTIVE: The aim of this study was to gain a better understanding of changes in muscle morphology in patients with chronic idiopathic neck pain (CINP) and chronic whiplash-associated disorder (CWAD).

SUMMARY OF BACKGROUND DATA: Worldwide, neck pain (NP) is a common health problem with high socioeconomic burden. A high percentage of these patients evolves toward chronic symptoms. Efficacy of treatments for these complaints remains variable. In current literature, changes in muscle morphology (muscle fat infiltration and cross-sectional area) have been reported in patients with NP, both CWAD and CINP. However, no strong conclusions could be made.

METHODS: In this study, magnetic resonance imaging was used to obtain data on muscle morphology from 14 cervical flexor and extensor muscles in 117 female subjects with NP (CWAD = 37; CINP = 45) and healthy controls (HC = 35).

RESULTS: The CWAD group had a significantly larger muscle fat infiltration in some extensor (semispinalis and splenius capitis, trapezius, obliquus capitis inferior) and flexor (sternocleidomastoid) muscles compared to the CINP and/or HC group. A significantly larger (muscle) cross-sectional area was found in some extensor (levator scapulae, semispinalis capitis, trapezius) and flexor (longus colli, longus capitis, sternocleidomastoid) muscles in the HC group compared to the CINP and/or CWAD group. No clear associations were found between group differences and factors as pain duration, kinesiophobia, and disability.

CONCLUSION: The results in this study suggest changes in muscle morphology in both NP cohorts. These results show some similarities with earlier findings in this research domain. Further studies based on controlled longitudinal designs are needed to facilitate data compilation, to draw stronger conclusions, and to integrate them into the treatment of patients with chronic NP.Level of Evidence: 4.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)638-648
Number of pages11
Issue number10
Publication statusPublished - 15 May 2021

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