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Risk factors for the onset of non-specific neck pain: a systematic review
  1. Sionnadh Mairi McLean1,
  2. Stephen May1,
  3. Jennifer Klaber-Moffett2,
  4. Donald Macfie Sharp2,
  5. Eric Gardiner2
  1. 1Faculty of Health and Well Being, Sheffield Hallam University, Sheffield, UK
  2. 2Institute of Rehabilitation, Hull University, Hull, UK
  1. Correspondence to Dr Sionnadh McLean, Faculty of Health and Well Being, Sheffield Hallam University, Collegiate Campus, Room K201, 38 Collegiate Crescent, Broomhall Road, Sheffield S10 2BP, UK; S.McLean{at}


Objective Neck pain is a common musculoskeletal disorder, but little is known about which individuals develop neck pain. This systematic review investigated factors that constitute a risk for the onset of non-specific neck pain.

Design and setting A range of electronic databases and reference sections of relevant articles were searched to identify appropriate articles. Studies investigating risk factors for the onset of non-specific neck pain in asymptomatic populations were included. All studies were prospective with at least 1 year follow-up.

Main results 14 independent cohort studies met the inclusion criteria for the review. Thirteen studies were assessed as high quality. Female gender, older age, high job demands, low social/work support, being an ex-smoker, a history of low back disorders and a history of neck disorders were linked to the development of non-specific neck pain.

Conclusions Various clinical and sociodemographic risk factors were identified that have implications for occupational health and health policy. However, there was a lack of good-quality research investigating the predictive nature of many other variables.

  • Neck pain
  • risk factors
  • systematic review
  • epidemiology FQ
  • public health FQ
  • risk prediction

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  • Funding Arthritis Research Campaign, Copeman House, St Mary's Court, St Mary's Gate, Chesterfield, Derbyshire S41 7TD, UK.

  • Competing interests None.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.