NEW YORK (Reuters Health) – The results of a study published in the July issue of Cephalalgia support the hypothesis that patients with chronic neck pain could have a predisposition toward respiratory dysfunction.

“Although chronic neck pain syndrome has received considerable clinical research attention, many different relevant aspects of its consequences are still under investigation,” Dr. Eleni Kapreli, of Technological Educational Institution of Lamia, Greece, and colleagues write.

“Abdominal and chest breathing was assessed by observation only, and results showed that 83% of patients with neck pain, in a population of different chronic musculoskeletal pain syndromes, experienced a changed breathing pattern indicating a relationship between neck pain and respiration.”

The mean age of the patients was 29.42 years. Patients had a history of neck pain of 1 to 12 years (mean 4.77 years). Patients with neck pain had a statistically significant decreased maximal voluntary ventilation (p = 0.042) compared to controls Neck pain patients also had a mean reduction in maximal voluntary ventilation of 14%, in Pimax of 21.4%, and in Pemax of 16.5%. An increased forward head posture was strongly associated with decreased respiratory muscle strength in patients.

“The connection of neck pain and respiratory function could have a great impact on various clinical aspects, notably patient assessment, rehabilitation, and consumption of pharmacological agents,” Dr. Kapreli said in an interview with Reuters Health. “In terms of assessment, all the different components of respiratory function should be included, aiming to gather a representative wholesome perspective of patients’ problems.”

“The current study provides support to the belief that the clinician should have a ‘holistic view’ of the patient,” Dr. Kapreli said. “Even in the case of a common musculoskeletal disorder, other systems could have also been influenced,” the author explained. “Therefore, providing therapeutic solutions only for the main symptom is rather frustrating for the patient.”

Cephalalgia 2009;29:701-710.