Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

The age- and sex-specific occurrence of bothersome neck pain in the general population – results from the Stockholm public health cohort

Eva Skillgate12*, Cecilia Magnusson3, Michael Lundberg3 and Johan Hallqvist34

Author Affiliations

1 Institute of Environmental Medicine, Karolinska Institutet, Box 210, Stockholm, SE-17177, Sweden

2 Scandinavian College of Naprapathic Manual Medicine, Kräftriket 23A, Stockholm, SE-11419, Sweden

3 Department of Public Health Sciences, Division of Public Health Epidemiology, Karolinska Institutet, Norrbacka, Stockholm, SE-17176, Sweden

4 Department of Public Health and Caring Sciences, Preventive Medicine, Uppsala University, Box 564, Uppsala, SE-75122, Sweden

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BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders 2012, 13:185  doi:10.1186/1471-2474-13-185

Published: 24 September 2012



Neck pain is very common but the occurrence of bothersome neck pain is not well described. Therefore our objective was to report on the prevalence and incidence of, as well as the rate of recovery from, bothersome neck pain in men and women of different ages in the general population.


We used data from a recently conducted population-based cohort study, comprising 23,794 individuals in Stockholm County, Sweden. Study participants were surveyed with a self-administered questionnaire in 2002/2003 and 2007, and information on episodes of neck pain was gathered at baseline and at follow-up. We then measured bothersome neck pain in 2005 and 2006 retrospectively in 2007 using the follow-up questionnaire.


The one-year prevalence of bothersome neck pain for at least seven consecutive days was 25% (95% confidence interval (CI): 24–25) among women and 16% (95% CI: 15–16) among men, peaking in individuals aged 30–59 years. The one-year incidence proportion of bothersome neck pain was 7% (95% CI: 6–7) among women, and 4% (95% CI: 4–5) among men. Women recovered more infrequently than men. The one-year incidence proportion of recovery (of at least one year duration) was 11% (95% CI: 10–12) among women and 14% (95% CI: 12–16) among men.


Bothersome neck pain is most common in middle-aged individuals. Women are more likely than men to have and to develop bothersome neck pain, and less likely to recover from such pain. Younger men and women have a higher incidence, but recover more often from bothersome neck pain than older individuals.