Which factors put workers at risk for neck pain?

In brief

  • Neck pain in workers results from a number of individual and workplace factors.
  • To date, no prevention strategies have been shown to reduce the rate of neck pain in workers.

Published: January 2008

Why was this study done?

Neck pain or disability can limit a worker’s ability to perform his or her job. Although there have been past reviews on the causes of neck pain in workers and on its burden, new studies warrant another look at this topic. This review, by the Bone and Joint Decade 2000-2010 Task Force on Neck Pain and its Associated Disorders, looked at the rate of neck pain in workers, and identified which factors placed workers at risk for neck pain.

How was the review done?

The researchers conducted a systematic review of studies published from 1980-2006 using Medline, an electronic library database. Articles relevant to the topic were assessed by Neck Pain Task Force members, and had to meet specific criteria to be included as best evidence. In total, 109 studies were scientifically admissible.

What did the researchers find?

Neck pain rates in workers varied. For example, 27 per cent of Norwegian workers reported they had neck pain in the past year, compared to 34 per cent in the U.K., and 48 per cent in Quebec. In Canada, 14 per cent of workers said they had been limited in their ability to work because of neck pain over the past year. In a Swedish study, almost half of the workers said they went to work with neck pain, despite feeling they should take sick leave. Certain factors increased the risk of neck pain. At the level of the worker, these included:

  • age between 40-50
  • past soft-tissue or musculoskeletal pain
  • lower physical performance based on strength and endurance tests.


At the workplace level, they included:

  • high job demands
  • job insecurity
  • repetitive or precision tasks
  • low social support from coworkers
  • an inactive work posture
  • computer workstation design and work posture

What are some strengths and weaknesses of the review?

One strength of the review was that studies were evaluated using standard scientific criteria, making the review less likely to have biases. One weakness was that individuals studies used different approaches to consider the impact of other factors that could have affected neck pain.