Purpose: To synthesize the findings of two large population-based studies of the epidemiology of neck pain and whiplash-associated disorders from the province of Saskatchewan, Canada.
Study Design and Methods: We conducted two population-based cohort studies of neck pain and its related disability in Saskatchewan, Canada. First, the Saskatchewan Health and Back Pain Survey was designed to determine the prevalence and factors associated with neck pain in randomly selected adults. Second, we conducted a cohort study of the incidence and prognosis of whiplash and studied whether a change in the insurance system from tort to no-fault was related to a reduction in the number of whiplash claims and faster recovery.
Results: In 1995, the six-month prevalence of neck pain was 54.2% and 4.6% of adults experienced disabling neck pain in the previous six-months. Neck pain was associated with education, comorbidities, smoking, self-reported general health and a history of neck injury in a motor vehicle collision. The incidence of treated and/or compensated whiplash injury was estimated at 834/100,000 adults in 1994, and dropped by 28% to 598/100,000 adults in 1995, after tort reform. Compared to tort, the median time-to-recovery was more than 230 days faster under no-fault. The strongest predictors of recovery were age, gender, education, injury severity, lawyer involvement and type of initial care provider.
Conclusion: Neck pain is a public health problem. The incidence and prognosis of whiplash injuries are greatly influenced by compensation for pain and suffering, legal factors, injury severity and sociodemographic characteristics. Overall, neck pain is a multifaceted disabling problem that deserves more attention. When treating patients with neck pain, clinicians need to recognize that it is more than a physical problem and that its prognosis is influenced by broader determinants of health.
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