BACKGROUND: The influence of psychological factors on acute neck pain is sparsely studied. In a secondary analysis of prospectively collected data, this study investigated how several psychological factors develop in the first three months of acute neck pain and how these factors influence self-perceived recovery.
METHODS: Patients were recruited in various chiropractic practices throughout Switzerland between 2010 and 2014. The follow-up telephone interviews were conducted for all patients by research assistants in the coordinating university hospital following a standardized procedure. The population of this study consisted of 103 patients (68 female; mean age = 38.3 ± 13.8 years) with a first episode of acute (<4 weeks) neck pain. Prior to the first treatment, the patients filled in the Bournemouth Questionnaire (BQ). One week and 1 and 3 months later, they completed the BQ again along with the Patient Global Impression of Change (PGIC). The temporal development (repeated measure ANOVA) of the BQ questions 4 (anxiety), 5 (depression), 6 (fear-avoidance) and 7 (pain locus of control) as well as the influence of these scores on the PGIC were investigated (binary logistic regression analyses, receiver operating curves (ROC)).
RESULTS: All psychological parameters showed significant reduction within the first month. The parameter 'anxiety' was associated with outcome at 1 and 3 months (p = 0.013, R(2) = 0.40 and p = 0.039, R(2) = 0.63, respectively). Baseline depression (p = 0.037, R(2) = 0.21), but not baseline anxiety, was a predictor for poor outcome. A high reduction in anxiety within the first month was a significant predictor for favorable outcome after 1 month (p < 0.001; R(2) = 0.57).
CONCLUSIONS: Psychological factors emerged from this study as relevant in the early phase of acute neck pain. Particularly persistent anxiety and depression at baseline might be risk factors for a transition to chronic pain that should be addressed in the early management of neck pain patients.