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Posture not the pain in the neck as previously thought

Media release

Curtin University researchers have examined the link between neck posture and neck pain in adolescents, with their findings challenging widely held beliefs about the role posture plays in neck pain and headaches.

Lead author Ms Karen Richards, from Curtin’s School of Physiotherapy and Exercise Science, said the study looked at whether different kinds of neck posture and biopsychosocial factors, such as gender, weight, height, depression, physical activity, sitting time and computer use, influenced the incidence of neck pain and headaches.

“Neck posture, particularly in a sitting position, is traditionally considered an important contributing factor to the development and persistence of neck pain and headaches amongst adolescents and adults alike,” Ms Richards said.

“Results from our research identified four main types of sitting neck postures in the cohort of 17-year-olds – upright, intermediate, slumped thorax/forward head and erect thorax/forward head.

“None of these, however, were found to be associated with persistent neck pain, neck pain in a sitting position, or headaches in 17-year-olds.”

The research did support evidence which demonstrated that neck sitting posture was associated with differences in exercise frequency, depression and Body Mass Index (BMI).

“Participants who were slumped in their thoracic spine and had their head forward when they sat were at higher odds of mild, moderate, or severe depression, while participants classified as having a more upright posture exercised more frequently,” Ms Richards said.

“Further, the research found adolescent females sit more upright than males, overweight people are more likely to sit with a forward neck posture, and taller people are more likely to sit upright.”

“The research is specific to 17-year-olds and may not be applicable to adults but the findings raise questions regarding the efficacy of generic postural advice for adolescents with and without neck pain.”

The paper, titled Neck posture clusters and their association with biopsychosocial factors and neck pain in Australian adolescents, was published in the Journal of the American Physical Therapy Association and is available upon request.

The cross-sectional study was part of the Western Australia Pregnancy Cohort (Raine) study, which commenced in 1989 with 2,868 children born to 2,804 mothers.

Curtin researchers are now investigating risk factors for neck pain and these results will be available in 2017.