Characteristics and management of pain in patients with Klippel-Feil syndrome: analysis of a global patient-reported registry

Restricted access


Klippel-Feil syndrome (KFS) is characterized by congenital fusion of the cervical vertebrae. Due to its rarity, minimal research has been done to assess the quality and management of pain associated with this disorder. Using a large global database, the authors report a detailed analysis of the type, location, and treatment of pain in patients with KFS.


Data were obtained from the Coordination of Rare Diseases at Stanford registry and Klippel-Feil Syndrome Freedom registry. The cervical fusions were categorized into Samartzis type I, II, or III. The independent-sample t-test, Wilcoxon rank-sum test, and Friedman test were conducted, with significance set at p < 0.05.


Seventy-five patients (60 female, 14 male, and 1 unknown) were identified and classified as having the following types of Samartzis fusion: type I, n = 21 (28%); type II, n = 15 (20%); type III, n = 39 (52%). Seventy participants (93.3%) experienced pain associated with their KFS. The median age of patients at pain onset was 16.0 years (IQR 6.75–24.0 years), and the median age when pain worsened was 28.0 years (IQR 15.25–41.5 years). Muscle, joint, and nerve pain was primarily located in the shoulders/upper back (76%), neck (72%), and back of head (50.7%) and was characterized as tightness (73%), dull/aching (67%), and tingling/pins and needles (49%). Type III fusions were significantly associated with greater nerve pain (p = 0.02), headache/migraine pain (p = 0.02), and joint pain (p = 0.03) compared to other types of fusion. Patients with cervical fusions in the middle region (C2–6) tended to report greater muscle, joint, and nerve pain (p = 0.06). Participants rated the effectiveness of oral over-the-counter medications as 3 of 5 (IQR 1–3), oral prescribed medications as 3 of 5 (IQR 2–4), injections as 2 of 5 (IQR 1–4), and surgery as 3 of 5 (IQR 1–4), with 0 indicating the least pain relief and 5 the most pain relief. Participants who pursued surgical treatment reported significantly more comorbidities (p = 0.02) and neurological symptoms (p = 0.01) than nonsurgically treated participants and were significantly older when pain worsened (p = 0.03), but there was no difference in levels of muscle, joint, or nerve pain (p = 0.32); headache/migraine pain (p = 0.35); total number of cervical fusions (p = 0.77); location of fusions; or age at pain onset (p = 0.16).


More than 90% of participants experienced pain. Participants with an increased number of overall cervical fusions or multilevel, contiguous fusions reported greater levels of muscle, joint, and nerve pain. Participants who pursued surgery had more comorbidities and neurological symptoms, such as balance and gait disturbances, but did not report more significant pain than nonsurgically treated participants.

ABBREVIATIONS CoRDS = Coordination of Rare Diseases at Stanford; KFS = Klippel-Feil syndrome; NDI = Neck Disability Index.

Supplementary Materials

  • Appendix 1: CoRDS Questionnaire (PDF 575 KB)
  • Appendix 2: KFS Freedom Questionnaire (PDF 558 KB)