Neck and shoulder pain in adolescents seldom occur alone: Results from the Norwegian Ungdata Survey

Eur J Pain. 2021 Sep;25(8):1751-1759. doi: 10.1002/ejp.1785. Epub 2021 May 11.


Background: No previous studies have investigated the prevalence of co-occurring neck/shoulder pain, other musculoskeletal pain, headache and depressive symptoms in adolescents. This study aimed to describe the prevalence of isolated neck/shoulder pain and the co-occurrence of neck/shoulder pain with other musculoskeletal pain, headache and depressive symptoms in Norwegian adolescents.

Methods: This is a cross-sectional study using data from the Norwegian Ungdata survey (2017-2019). Adolescents from almost all municipalities in Norway answered a comprehensive questionnaire, including physical complaints. We investigated the prevalence of self-reported neck/shoulder pain in isolation and neck/shoulder pain in combination with other musculoskeletal pain, headache and depressive symptoms. The results were presented with per cent and stratified by school level and sex.

Results: In total, 253,968 adolescents (50% girls) participated in the study, of which 56.5% were from lower secondary school. The total prevalence of neck/shoulder pain was 24%, but only 5% reported isolated neck/shoulder pain. Among students reporting neck/shoulder pain, half of them also reported other musculoskeletal pain, and 50% of the boys and 70% of the girls reported co-occurring headache. Depressive symptoms were reported in 28% of the boys and 45% of the girls with neck/shoulder pain.

Conclusion: Neck/shoulder pain in adolescents is seldom isolated, but seems to co-occur with headache, other musculoskeletal pain and depressive symptoms. Researchers and clinicians should keep a broader health perspective in mind when approaching adolescents with neck/shoulder pain.

Significance: One in five adolescents reported neck/shoulder pain in this large population-based study of Norwegian adolescents. A majority of adolescents reported neck/shoulder pain in co-occurrence with other musculoskeletal pain, headache and depression. Researchers and clinicians should assess these comorbidities when assessing adolescents with neck/shoulder pain.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Musculoskeletal Pain* / epidemiology
  • Neck Pain / epidemiology
  • Norway / epidemiology
  • Prevalence
  • Shoulder Pain* / epidemiology
  • Surveys and Questionnaires