269 million people to experience neck pain by 2050

New research led by investigators from the Kolling Institute has identified a concerning global trend which will see the burden of neck pain dramatically increase over the next 30 years.

The research analysed data from more than 200 countries, measuring the prevalence of neck pain from 1990 to 2020.

It found 203 million people now experience neck pain across the globe, a figure which has remained stable over the last 30 years and not improved.

More women than men live with neck pain, while the condition primarily affects people between 45 years and 74 years.

Despite the high prevalence of neck pain, its causes have not been clearly defined across populations.

Investigators say the evidence suggests a range of factors from muscle strains, work or sports related events through to degenerative conditions like osteoarthritis, car accidents, or neurological issues are contributing to the painful condition.

Lead author and Kolling Institute Academic Director Professor James Elliott said the data points to a sharp rise in expected cases due to a rapidly ageing global population.

“Concerningly, the projections indicate a 32 per cent increase in cases between 2020 and 2050, bringing the total number of cases of neck pain to 269 million,” he said.

“This will lead to a tremendous burden on health systems across the globe, as well as a significant individual toll.

“We know that neck pain has a considerable economic, social and personal cost, and we would like to see more effective interventions introduced on a large scale.

“Currently, there is no gold standard diagnostic test for neck pain, no known pathophysiology and no universally effective treatment for it.

“We need to shine a light on the condition and drive new technology, new assessments and new management options that are economically viable, effective and broadly available.

“We hope that following this historic research there will be a renewed commitment to improving our understanding of the different causes and risk factors for neck pain, and an escalation in the collection of global neck pain data.”

Senior author and leading rheumatologist Professor Lyn March has welcomed the focus on neck pain, saying this research represents a call to action for policy makers to strengthen the capacity of their health systems to deliver quality musculoskeletal care services.

“It’s crucial the community has access to early detection, management and long-term care, and that greater resources are invested in research to reduce the global burden of neck pain,” she said.

The research, which has been published in The Lancet Rheumatology, was funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and Global Alliance for Musculoskeletal Health.