Background and purpose: Neck/shoulder and low back pain are common in the Western world and can cause great personal and economic consequences, but so far there are few long term follow-up studies of the consequences of back pain, especially studies that separate the location of back pain. More knowledge is needed about different patterns of risk factors and prognoses for neck/shoulder and low back pain, respectively, and they should not be treated as similar conditions. The aim of the present study was to investigate possible long-term differences in neck/shoulder and low back symptoms, experienced over a 12-year period, with regard to work status, present health, discomfort and influence on daily activities.
Method: A retrospective cohort study of individuals sicklisted with neck/shoulder or low back diagnoses 12 years ago was undertaken. Included were all 213 people who, in 1985, lived in the municipality of Linköping, Sweden, were aged 25-34 years and who had taken at least one new period of sickleave lasting > 28 days with a neck/shoulder or low back diagnosis. In 1996, a questionnaire was mailed to the 204 people who were still resident in Sweden (response rate 73%).
Results: Those initially absent with neck/shoulder diagnoses rated their present state of discomfort as worse than those sicklisted with low back diagnoses. Only 4% of the neck/shoulder group reported no present discomfort compared with 25% of the low back group. Notably, both groups reported the same duration of low back discomfort during the last year, which may indicate a higher risk for symptoms in more than one location for subjects with neck/shoulder problems.
Conclusions: Individuals with sickness absence of more than 28 days with neck/shoulder or low back diagnoses appear to be at high risk of developing long-standing symptoms significantly more so for those initially having neck/shoulder diagnoses.