Objective: to describe the prevalences of reported headache and neck or shoulder pain as unspecified complaints, and to explore the consequences of these complaints measured as unfitness for work.
Design: self-administered questionnaire as part of a general health screening.
Setting: all persons aged between 20 and 56 years, in the municipality of Tromsø were invited. Of 29,026 invited, 21,826 attended, and of these 20,026 answered the questionnaire. Some 17,700 answered the questions on headache, and 17,650 on neck or shoulder pain.
Results: 6.0% of the males reported weekly or more frequent headache, and 15.4% reported neck or shoulder pain. The corresponding prevalences in women were 13.1% and 24.9%. This female preponderance was present also among subjects expressing the complaints daily or monthly. The prevalences of reported neck or shoulder pain increased significantly with age, while the prevalences of reported headache were not influenced by age. Of the subjects with weekly headache, as many as 30% of both sexes reported being "seriously hampered or unable to perform ordinary work".
Conclusions: many people in the general population live with disabling complaints, but the numbers seeking medical care for them are far fewer. It is important to demonstrate the high prevalence of headache and neck or shoulder pain, and also to understand the complexity of the causal factors, and the reason why only a proportion of sufferers seek professional help.