Neck pain impacts on the quality of life

Non-specific neck pain is a common health problem of global concern, especially in office workers. Neck pain is classified as non-specific when the pathophysiology is relatively unknown or unclear. The pain is not because of any underlying pathology or systemic disease; however, symptoms are localized to the neck region. Work-related musculoskeletal pain has a high prevalence rate of self-reported non-specific neck pain in both developed and developing countries. In Australia, a one-year incidence rate of 49% was recorded for neck pain in office workers. In developing countries, such as India, reported a 47% prevalence rate for office-related neck pain. In South Africa, there is limited published research on the prevalence of work-related neck pain; however, some studies reported that 28.2% of office workers complained of pain localized mostly to the neck, shoulder and wrist areas. The above evidence indicates that non-specific neck pain in office workers could be of concern over multiple continents.

Neck pain has been associated with decreased health-related quality of life (HRQoL) in several studies. In 2007, office workers in the Netherlands presented with a 31% decrease in their quality of life (QoL) scores after they started experiencing neck pain. Non-specific neck pain is often the cause of working days lost. Work-related musculoskeletal disorders (WRMSDs) accounted for 41% of the prevalence of all work-related ill health in Great Britain in 2015/2016; WRMSDs working days lost (which place burdens on employers) accounted for 34% of all days lost because of work-related illness; work-related upper limb disorders (WRULDs) because of keyboard or repetitive action accounted for 56 000 cases (27%) and awkward or tiring positions for 29 000 cases (14%). Many measurement tools have been used, such as the Short Form-36 Health Survey (SF-36) or subscales of the SF-36, Neck Disability Index (NDI), 15-Dimensional HRQoL instrument (15D) and amount of Healthy or Sick Leave Days to assess QoL among patients with neck pain, but no gold standard measurement exists.

The most common reason for work absenteeism among office workers is because of pain or tenderness in the neck region, inhibiting working abilities. Environmental (prolonged static or awkward postures, highly repetitive movements and computer work) and physical (inadequate strength or muscle endurance and poor posture) factors contribute to the development of work-related neck pain. Computer workers are two to three times more likely to develop chronic neck pain when compared to the general population. Zungu and Ndaba reported that South African office workers, who spend 75% or more of the working day on a computer, have an increased risk of developing neck pain. Three studies found an association between computer work, poor posture (forward head postural alignment), cervical flexor and extensor muscle imbalances, muscle fatigue and the development or worsening of work-related neck pain. Therefore, addressing these contributing factors to work-related neck pain will help reduce the onset and intensity of work-related neck pain and the absenteeism of office workers.

Various treatment strategies have been implemented to successfully manage individuals with work-related neck pain to allow them to return to work as soon as possible showed that physiotherapy interventions such as exercise, mobilisation and electrotherapy modalities reduce work-related neck pain levels and improve function. This is achieved by re-educating, strengthening and stretching muscles; mobilising soft tissue and improving ergonomics and kinetic handling in the workplace. Sihawong et al. () indicated that both strengthening and endurance exercises have superior benefits over stretching programmes for treatment of non-specific neck pain in office workers. O’Riordan et al. () reported that resistance exercises and endurance training reduced pain and disability scores in office workers with chronic neck pain.