Neck pain may increase the risk of falls

At Complete Chiropractic, we firmly believe that good spinal health is one of the keys to maintaining an active lifestyle when young, and ageing gracefully and remaining healthy, active and fit as we grow older. It’s long been clear that proactive attempts to manage health, such as regular chiropractic care can have a substantial impact on quality of life for all of us as we grow older, but new research has now suggested that the converse point is also true – that is to say, ignoring common spinal problems may actually increase your risk of common sources of injury, such as trips and falls.


Neck pain and injury

Neck pain is a common issue for many of us – and is typically associated with our modern usage of electronic devices and the poor posture this often entails.  You might think that this would be less of an issue for older individuals, who are perhaps a bit more sensible with their screen time! Not true, however  – According to an (admittedly fairly old, but still valid) study, commissioned in 1998, The prevalence of neck pain amongst older people is estimated as 40.5% in women and 36.1% in men.[1] Neck pain is, therefore, a highly common issue for virtually every  age group.

This is a problem because neck pain is an unpleasant symptom which can usually be treated with ease, but it is also important to understand the contribution of neck pain to sensorimotor disturbances (that is to say, problems with balance etc). In older individuals, the postural instability which results has been shown to increase the risk of falling[2] and in younger people it may increase the risk of re-injury.

Studies have already proven that in young and middle-aged individuals neck pain as a consequence of injury can result in disturbance of balance, and is a common symptom associated with whiplash injuries. In this circumstance, balance problems can be a real concern, as the can serve to further increase the risk of re-injury[3] and so should be addressed as soon as possible. It for this reason we see quite a few car crash injuries here at the clinic.

Regardless of age, nonspecific Neck pain (that is to say, neck pain without an obvious cause) can be associated with dizziness, unsteadiness and visual disturbances and it can also affect postural stability, cervical proprioception and head and eye movement control[4] which all goes to reduce postural stability and increase the risk of injury. Since Increasing age is often accompanied by a decline in the efficiency of this system anyway, greater disturbances in balance and postural control have been demonstrated in healthy elders when compared to the middle-aged.[5]

While we know that neck pain can have real consequences for all age groups, many of us still ignore neck pain as “just one of those things” which we often put down to “getting old”. At complete chiropractic, we don’t like that excuse – and here’s why – a 2012 study showed that neck pain actually increases the risk of trips and falls in the elderly, so the more you’re “getting old” the more you should address that neck pain!


Does neck pain increase the risk of falls in older individuals?

During the 2012 study[6], Forty older volunteers aged 65 years or older, were recruited for a study, with half the participants suffering from neck pain, and a half without.

To be eligible for the neck pain group, participants had to have neck pain as a predominant complaint, where neck pain is defined as pain and stiffness in the neck with or without radiating pain to shoulders and the upper limbs. Neck pain was to be of no less than 3 months duration with a score of at least 10 out of 100 on the Neck Disability Index (NDI). Participants were excluded if they had major complicating factors which could affect measures including the previous history of orthopaedic surgery, a current acute musculoskeletal injury, lumbar spine or lower limb arthritis for which they had sought active management, neurological problems (e.g. stroke, Parkinson’s disease), diabetes, and cognitive impairment.

Study participants then took part in some simple tests designed to asses the extent to which their neck pain increase their risk of trips or falls – the tests included a simple questionnaire, head and eye movement tests, balance and proprioception tests and postural stability tests. The study investigators then performed a statically analysis to arrive at their conclusions.

Overall, the study revealed that older individuals with neck pain demonstrated greater deficits in eye movement control, the perception of verticality and balance when compared to healthy elders even after controlling for all potential confounding factors (age and other conditions) that may have influences on the outcome measures. Additionally, they also had significantly lower levels of self-confidence in performing activities.


Regardless of age, neck pain is a risk!

Taking the population a whole, its clear the neck pain is more than just a pain – it’s a real risk. Whether you’re young middle aged, or older ignoring neck pain can lead to a loss of stability and balance which could be the source for a more serious injury.

Thankfully, help is at hand since regardless of the cause of your neck pain, chiropractic can offer a drug free way to manage and prevent neck pain – this improving quality of life no matter who you are.

At complete chiropractic, we also offer specialist postural analysis and correction services ideal for those who are experiencing neck pain as a result of long hours at work – learn more about this on our chiropractic biophysics page!


[1] (March et al., 1998

[2] (Shumway-Cook et al., 2000; Hawk et al., 2006; Pajala et al., 2008).

[3] Field et al., 2008; Humphreys, 2008; Treleaven, 2008a,b).

[4] Treleaven, 2008a; Kristjansson and Treleaven, 2009).

[5] Woollacott and Tang, 1997; Gill et al., 2001; Jacobson et al., 2008; Schrager et al., 2008; Vuillerme et al., 2008; Liaw et al., 2009

[6]  Sureeporn Uthaikhup, Gwendolen Jull, Somporn Sungkarat, Julia Treleaven The Influence of Neck Pain on Sensorimotor Function in the Elderly Arch Gerontol Geriatr. 2012 (Nov);   55 (3):   667–672

Blog by / February 8, 2019 / Blog

Dr. Paul Irvine is a doctor of chiropractic who graduated in 1994 with a Bachelor of Science degree from the University of NSW and in 1996, attained his Master of Chiropractic degree from Macquarie University in Australia. He practised in North Sydney for 5 years before he left Australia to travel and practise in the UK. He joined Complete Chiropractic in 2003 (est 1999) and took over the clinic in 2007