Evidence-based Overviews | Prevention | Treatments & Self-Management | Associated Conditions | Decision Aids and Toolkits | Work Accommodation | Neck Pain Organizations | Research on Neck Pain
Neck pain is very common. It is estimated that by middle age, between 30% to 50% of people will have an episode of neck pain within a one year period. At any given time, between 1.7% and 11.5% of people report that their usual activities are limited due to neck pain. Neck pain is more prevalent among women and in middle age. Risk factors for neck pain include genetics, poor psychological health, and exposure to tobacco. Contrary to popular opinion, disc degeneration was not identified as a risk factor.
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There is strong evidence that some kinds of neck pain can be prevented. Recent research has shown that whiplash injuries arising from motor vehicle collisions can be reduced by up to 35% if people were in cars with GOOD rated head restraints and adjusted them appropriately. You can find more information about cars with GOOD head restraints, adjusting your head restraint and more through our Whiplash Prevention Campaign.
Whiplash Associated Disorder – Whiplash-associated disorders most often occurs as a result of rear end or side impact vehicle collisions. However it can also be caused by sports injuries involving being hit from the side or behind (skiing, contact sports, skating, etc.).
Postural or Stress-related Neck Pain – Neck pain arising from postural or stress may be reduced through improving ergonomics, stress management, changes in work culture, general fitness and neck exercises. Research into primary neck pain reduction has found that it is very difficult reduce the incidence of neck pain in the workplace, although, general fitness and exercise can have an impact on reducing pain, pain-related suffering and disability. More information and resources on ergonomic improvements in our Work Accommodation section below.
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Headaches - Headaches are a common complaint for people with neck pain.
Depression – People with chronic neck pain are at a higher risk of experiencing depression. Depression and pain can produce a vicious cycle where one feeds into the other resulting in higher pain levels and more depression. Visit our mental health resources to take a more active approach to living well with depression.
Low Back Pain - People with neck pain often have correlated pain in their lower back. Our Back Pain section has resources for dealing with back pain.
Decision Aids and Toolkits
Neck Pain Toolkit – An informational booklet on the causes, treatments and management of neck pain. Also includes instructions for basic stretches for neck pain.
Online Pain Assessment Tool - An online pain assessment tool that provides you with a body to assign pain levels to. Provides an opportunity to print your assessment to give to your doctor or for your own records.
Chronic Back Pain Checkup – A decision-making tool to help you decide when and where you should seek care based on your back pain symptoms.
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Ergonomics / Physical Activity
The resources below provide some tools for evaluating and improving ergonomics for a work station. However ergonomics alone will not address the serious consequences of prolonged sitting.
There is a growing body of research indicating that prolonged sitting not only increases work stress, but also has other health consequences. Extensive sitting is also associated with a higher risk of heart disease, diabetes, cancer and death. For example, sitting for more than one hour has been shown to induce biochemical changes in lipase activity (an enzyme involved in fat metabolism) and in glucose metabolism, that leads to the deposit of fats in adipose tissue rather than these being metabolized by muscle. A recent study suggests an association between sitting time (number of hours sitting at work per day) and neck-shoulder pain. Current research recommends that workers who are sedentary most of the day stand up and move around for short stretch break every 20 minutes. Having multiple short breaks reduces the consequences of prolonged sitting.
To assist with issues such as work-station neck pain, institutes such as the Cornell University Ergonomics lab have been experimenting with both standing and sitting computer work stations, and have been exploring combining sitting and standing workstations at work. Many organizations have been installing combination sitting and standing workstations. However there is not sufficient research to quantify their impact on productivity or utilization over a longer period of time.
Neck Pain Organizations
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Last Updated: March 6, 2015
Reviewed by: Marc White PhD, Scientific & Executive Director, CIRPD