This study compares neck force steadiness in women with neck pain and controls and the way this is influenced by short term vibration of the neck. In the first experiment, 9 women with chronic neck pain and 9 controls performed 10-s isometric cervical flexion at 15 N. Intramuscular EMG was recorded from the sternocleidomastoid muscle. In the second experiment, 10 women with neck pain and 10 controls performed 10-s isometric cervical flexion at 25% of their maximal force before and after vibration to the neck (bursts of 50 Hz with duration 20, 40, 60 and 120 s). Surface EMG was acquired from the sternocleidomastoid and splenius capitis. In both experiments, force steadiness was characterized by the coefficient of variation (CoV) and the relative power in three frequency subbands (low: 0–3 Hz; middle: 4–6 Hz; high: 8–12 Hz) of the force signal. Women with neck pain exhibited decreased force steadiness (Exp 1: patients 3.9 ± 1.3%, controls 2.7 ± 0.9%, P < 0.05; Exp 2: patients 3.4 ± 1.2%, controls 1.7 ± 0.6%, P < 0.01) which was associated with higher power in the lowfrequency band (patients 71.2 ± 9.6%, controls 56.7 ± 9.2%, P < 0.01). Following vibration, CoV (2.6 ± 1.1%, P < 0.05) and the power in the low-frequency band of the force signal decreased (63.1 ± 13.9%, P < 0.05) in the patient group. These effects were not present in controls. Motor unit behavior and surface EMG amplitude were similar between groups. In conclusion, women with neck pain have reduced force steadiness, likely due to alterations in Ia afferent input. Vibration, which modulates Ia afferent input, increases force steadiness in patients with neck pain.

Keywords: Neck pain, Steadiness, Vibration, Motor unit