Use of Outcome Measures in Managing Neck Pain: An International Multidisciplinary Survey

Joy C MacDermid*, 1, David M Walton2, Pierre Côté3, P. Lina Santaguida4, Anita Gross5, Lisa Carlesso4, ICON
1 School of Rehabilitation Sciences, McMaster University, Hamilton Ontario Canada, and Clinical Research Lab, Hand and Upper Limb Centre, St. Joseph's Health Centre, London, Ontario, Canada
2 School of Physical Therapy, Western University, London, Ontario, Canada
3 Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Ontario Institute of Technology, Oshawa, Ontario Canada
4 Department of Clinical Epidemiology and Biostatistics, McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
5 School of Rehabilitation Sciences, McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
6 ICON (International Collaboration on Neck), Canada

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© MacDermid 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 School of Rehabilitation Science, IAHS, 1400 Main Street West, 4th Floor, Hamilton, ON, L8S 1C7, Canada; Tel: 905-525-9140, Ext. 22524; Fax: 905-524-0069; E-mail:



To determine the outcome measures practice patterns in the neck pain management of various health disciplines.


A survey of 381 clinicians treating patients with neck pain was conducted.


Respondents were more commonly male (54%) and either chiropractors (44%) or physiotherapists (32%). The survey was international (24 countries with Canada having the largest response (44%)). The most common assessment was a single-item pain assessment (numeric or visual analog) used by 75% of respondents. Respondents sometimes or routinely used the Neck Disability Index (49%), the Patient Specific Functional Scale (28%), and the Disabilities of the Arm, Shoulder and Hand (32%). Work status was recorded in terms of time lost by more than 50% of respondents, but standardized measures of work limitations or functional capacity testing were rarely used. The majority of respondents never used fear of movement, psychological distress, quality of life, participation measures, or global ratings of change (< 10% routinely use). Use of impairment measurers was prevalent, but the type selected was variable. Quantitative sensory testing was used sometimes or routinely by 53% of respondents, whereas 26% never used it. Ratings of segmental joint mobility were commonly used to assess motion (44% routinely use), whereas 66% of respondents never used inclinometry. Neck muscle strength, postural alignment and upper extremity coordination were assessed sometimes or routinely by a majority of respondents (>56%). With the exception of numeric pain ratings and verbal reporting of work status, all outcomes measures were less frequently used by physicians. Years of practice did not affect practice patterns, but reimbursement did affect selection of some outcome measures.


Few outcome measures are routinely used to assess patients with neck pain other than a numeric pain rating scale. A comparison of practice patterns to current evidence suggessts overutilization of some measures that have questionable reliability and underutilization of some with better supporting evidence. This practice analysis suggests that there is substantial need to implement more consistent outcome measurement in practice. International consensus and better clinical measurement evidence are needed to support this.

Keywords: Survey, neck pain, outcome measure, practice patterns, profession.