BACKGROUND: Previous findings reported that people with chronic neck pain walk with reduced range trunk rotation, especially when walking in more challenging conditions. Quantification of the quality of neck and trunk movement during gait could provide further insight into biomechanical changes that occur in people with neck pain. This study uniquely compared the variability of trunk and neck rotation during single-task and dual-task gait in people with chronic neck pain and asymptomatic individuals.
METHODS: An observational case-control study was conducted on 20 asymptomatic individuals and 24 people with chronic neck pain of idiopathic or traumatic origin. Participants performed rectilinear walking whilst keeping the head in a neutral position (single-task) and whilst rotating the head at a natural speed (dual-task). Trunk and head rotation angles were averaged across gait cycles for the task trials. The data were normalised in time, and the average variability of angular distribution along the normalised cycle was extracted. The Tampa Scale for Kinesiophobia was used to assess fear of movement.
FINDINGS: During single-task gait, there were no group differences for the variability of trunk (p = 0.862) or neck (p = 0.427) rotation. For dual-task gait, there was no difference between groups for the variability of neck rotation (p = 0.636), however, the participants with neck pain displayed reduced variability of trunk rotation (p = 0.021). The neck pain group also walked at a significantly slower speed during dual-task gait (p = 0.043) compared to asymptomatic individuals and the speed of their gait was associated with the extent of fear of movement.
INTERPRETATION: The strategy observed in participants with chronic neck pain likely reflects adaptive behaviour when faced with more challenging conditions for postural control.