Neck pain common among adults, review shows

In brief

  • Neck pain is common.
  • Risk factors for neck pain that cannot be changed include age, gender and genetics.
  • Risk factors for neck pain that can be changed include smoking, exposure to tobacco, and psychological health.

Published: January 2008

Why was this review done?

This is the first review to summarize the research studies on the impact and causes of neck pain and its associated disorders in the general population. The purpose is to share current knowledge on neck pain and to encourage planning of appropriate health care.

How was the review done?

This review was part of the Bone and Joint Decade 2000-2010 Task Force on Neck Pain and Its Associated Disorders. Task force members did a systematic search and conducted a critical review of the research on neck pain. In total, 249 studies met scientific criteria for this topic.

What did the researchers find?

Between 30 and 50 per cent of adults reported that they experienced neck pain over the past 12-month period. In different studies, between two and 12 per cent experienced pain that limited their daily activities. Neck pain was most common in women and peaked at middle age. Risk factors for neck pain included genetics, poor psychological health and exposure to tobacco. Disc degeneration did not appear to be a risk factor for neck pain, as is commonly thought.

What are some strengths and weaknesses of the study?

This was the first review to assemble existing evidence on the causes and rates of neck pain in the general population. However, because reviewers restricted their search to articles published between 1980 and 2006, they may have missed relevant studies from outside this time frame.