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BMC Musculoskelet Disord. 2013 Jan 4;14:8. doi: 10.1186/1471-2474-14-8.

Non-traumatic arm, neck and shoulder complaints: prevalence, course and prognosis in a Dutch university population.

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  • 1Department of Epidemiology, Centre for Evidence Based Physiotherapy, Maastricht University, The Netherlands.



Complaints of arm, neck and shoulder are a major health problem in Western societies and a huge economic burden due to sickness absence and health-care costs. In 2003 the 12-month prevalence's in the Netherlands were estimated at 31.4% for neck pain, 30.3% for shoulder pain, and 17.5% for wrist and hand pain. Research data suggest that these complaints are increasingly common among university students. The aims of the present study are to provide insight into the prevalence of complaints of arm, neck or shoulder in a university population, to evaluate the clinical course of these complaints and to identify prognostic factors which influence this course.


The present study is designed as a prospective cohort study, in which a cross-sectional survey is embedded. A self-administered cross-sectional survey will be conducted to gain insight into the prevalence of complaints of arm, neck or shoulder among university students and staff, and to identify persons who are eligible for follow up in the prognostic cohort study. Patients with a new complaint of pain and discomfort in neck and upper extremities between 18-65 years will be asked to participate in the prognostic cohort study. At baseline, after 6, 12, 26 and 52 weeks individual patient data will be collected by means of digitized self-administered questionnaires. The following putative prognostic determinants will be investigated: socio-demographic factors, work-related factors, complaint characteristics, physical activity and psychosocial factors.The primary outcome is subjective recovery. Secondary outcomes are functional limitations of the arm, neck, shoulder and hand, and complaint severity during the previous week.


To our knowledge, this is the first prognostic study on the course of complaints of arm, neck or shoulder that is conducted within a university population. Moreover, there are hardly any studies that have estimated the prevalence of these complaints among university students. The results of this study can be used for patient education and management decisions, as well as for the development of interventions. Moreover, identification of high risk groups in the population is needed to generate hypotheses or explanations of health differences and for the design of prevention programs.

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