The Epidemiology of Neck Pain

, Medical College of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, Wis.

In This Article

Abstract and Introduction


Neck pain is a common problem in our society and, at any given time, affects about 10% of the general population. The sources of pain are caused by conditions that compress, destroy, or irritate pain-sensitive structures such as the annulus fibrosus, posterior longitudinal ligament, and the capsule of the zygapophyseal joints. Involvement of the cervical nerve roots usually results in pain and neurologic findings in the distribution of the nerve. Referred pain from visceral disease may cause neck pain and may also be confused with primary shoulder disease and peripheral nerve entrapments. Common conditions thought to cause neck pain are degenerative disc disease, with or without disc herniation, and degenerative arthritis of the zygapophyseal joints. Aside from patients with disc herniations demonstrated on imaging studies and pain in a specific nerve root distribution, the relationship with degenerative changes is not always clear. This is because degenerative conditions are common with aging and many times are incidental findings in asymptomatic people. Specific conditions that have been studied but also are not well understood are post-traumatic neck pain syndrome, commonly known as whiplash injuries, and pain following repetitive activities in an occupational setting. Although causes of neck pain are not well understood, outcome studies have shown that it frequently is not a self-limiting condition and can be a long-term problem.


Epidemiology is the branch of medical science that studies the causes, incidence, prevalence, and control of a disease in a defined population. Although there are numerous epidemiologic studies of low-back pain, relatively few investigations of neck pain have been conducted. There are several reasons for this, the most important being that neck pain is not as common as low-back pain and, when present, is not as disabling; therefore, it doesn't have the same economic impact on society as does low-back pain.

Neck pain is a symptom of a disease process. Knowing the etiology of neck pain aids in understanding its epidemiology.


Comments on Medscape are moderated and should be professional in tone and on topic. You must declare any conflicts of interest related to your comments and responses. Please see our Commenting Guide for further information. We reserve the right to remove posts at our sole discretion.