What Does ‘Recovery’ Mean to People with Neck Pain? Results of a Descriptive Thematic Analysis

David M Walton*, 1, Joy C MacDermid2, Todd Taylor3, ICON
1 School of Physical Therapy, Western University, London Ontario, Canada
2 School of Rehabilitation Sciences, McMaster University, Hamilton Ontario and, Clinical Research Lab, Hand and Upper Limb Centre, St. Joseph's Health Centre, London Ontario, Canada
3 LifeMark Physiotherapy, London Ontario, Canada

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© Walton et al.; Licensee Bentham Open.

open-access license: This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License ( which permits unrestrictive use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

* Address correspondence to this author at the Rm. EC1443, School of Physical Therapy, Western University, 1201 Western Rd., London, ON, N6H 1A1, Canada; Tel: 519-661-2111, Ext. 80145; Fax: 519-661-3866; E-mail:
§ International Collaboration on NeckICON is a multi-disciplinary collaborative group that includes scientist-authors (listed below) and support staff (Margaret Lomotan) that conducts evidence synthesis, qualitative inquiry and knowledge translation aimed at reducing the burden of neck pain; ICON is funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research.The ICON authors include (in alphabetical order): Gert Bronfort, Norm Buckley, Lisa Carlesso, Linda Carroll, Pierre Côté, Jeanette Ezzo, Paulo Ferreira, Tim Flynn, Charlie Goldsmith, Anita Gross, Ted Haines, Jan Hartvigsen, Wayne Hing, Gwendolen Jull, Faith Kaplan, Ron Kaplan, Helge Kasch, Justin Kenardy, Per Kjær, Janet Lowcock, Joy MacDermid, Margareta Nordin, Paul Peloso, Jan Pool, Duncan Reid, Sidney Rubinstein, P. Lina Santaguida, Anne Söderlund, Natalie Spearing, Michele Sterling, Grace Szeto, Robert Teasell, Arianne Verhagen, Howard Vernon, Dave Walton, Marc White. All members provided direction to this project; some members provided instrumental help in conduct of this project. All ICON members contributed to writing this manuscript (review/revise) and approved the manuscript.



To describe the meaning of being recovered as perceived by people with chronic mechanical neck pain.


To determine the way people with neck pain would describe a recovered state a descriptive thematic approach was used. A nominal focus group technique, written reflections, and one-on-one semi-structured interviews were used to collect sufficient data. Data from the focus groups were analyzed both through vote tallying and thematic analysis. Reflections and interviews were analyzed thematically by two independent researchers. Triangulation and member-checking were employed to establish trustworthiness of results.


A total of 35 people, primarily females with neck pain of traumatic origin, participated in this study. Thematic analysis identified 6 themes that adequately described the data: absent or manageable symptoms, having the physical capacity one ought to have, participation in life roles, feeling positive emotions, autonomy & spontaneity, and re-establishing a sense of self. Member checking and triangulation suggested data saturation and accuracy of the generated themes.


Recovery from neck pain appears to be informed by factors that fit with existing models of health, quality of life and satisfaction. Basing recovery solely on symptom or activity-level measures risks inaccurate estimates of recovery trajectories from traumatic or non-traumatic neck pain.

Keywords: Focus groups, qualitative, whiplash, thematic analysis.