Impact of neck pain on gait health…

Two seniors jogging outdoors in the city

How does neck pain relate to gait?

Providing effective care for older patients is something our profession can excel at. This topic is certainly an interesting aspect of healthy aging…

Gait is a complex function that requires coordination of almost every physiologic system in the body, and the quality of gait is determined by these interdependent relationships.  These relationships are particularly evident in older adults, where measures of gait health are associated with increased risk of falls, cognitive decline, and all-cause mortality.

Approximately 20% of adults experience chronic musculoskeletal pain, with prevalence increasing up to 60% in older adults.  Several studies have demonstrated the relationship between chronic pain and gait health, as pain directly and indirectly impacts the systems involved in gait.  However, few studies have examined the impact of neck pain on gait health.

Chronic non-specific neck pain (CNNP) is defined as pain that is musculoskeletal in origin that lasts for three or more months.  Preliminary studies have suggested that individuals with CNNP demonstrate altered gait, perhaps due to narrower step widths or asymmetrical gait.  The cervical spine provides robust input to the vestibular, visual, and sensorimotor systems during gait and CNNP may disrupt this input and impact the quality of gait.  Additionally, CNNP may limit the range of motion in the cervical spine and lead to pain-related muscle guarding and the adoption of kinesiophobic movement patterns, reducing mobility and potentially disrupting the visual field to navigate the environment and maintain balance during ambulation.
The goal of this meta-analysis and systematic review is to summarize the growing body of evidence assessing the relationship between CNNP and gait.  Specifically, this study characterizes the impact of CNNP on metrics of gait health to further inform the mechanisms underlying the effects of CNNP on gait.  

RESEARCH REVIEW: Impact of Neck Pain on Gait Health

This paper was published in BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders (2023)

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