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Prevalence of musculoskeletal pain in 2005 much higher than 1975

PainSci » bibliography » Harkness et al 2005
Tags: pain, back pain, muscle pain, biology, etiology, fun, pain problems, spine, muscle, pro

One page on PainSci cites Harkness 2005: The Complete Guide to Low Back Pain

PainSci commentary on Harkness 2005: ?This page is one of thousands in the bibliography. It is not a general article: it is focused on a single scientific paper, and it may provide only just enough context for the summary to make sense. Links to other papers and more general information are provided wherever possible.

In the northwest region of England, researchers examined then-and-now data try to figure out if people hurt more than they used to, between the 1950s and today. They used data collected by the Arthritis Research Campaign, looking at the prevelence of low back and shoulder pain. Interviews and questionnaires were used. They found that “the prevalence of musculoskeletal pain is much higher than that reported over 40 years ago. The change in prevalence is unlikely to be entirely due to the study design.” They pointed out that the appearance of an increase “could be partly explained by the ‘worried well’. The ‘worried well’ are those patients who are concerned about their health, and attend their GP to seek reassurance about their well-being.”

Their data also contributes to the evidence showing that low back pain dominates the middle of life, and does not increase steadily due into the golden years, as so many people assume.

~ Paul Ingraham

original abstract Abstracts here may not perfectly match originals, for a variety of technical and practical reasons. Some abstacts are truncated for my purposes here, if they are particularly long-winded and unhelpful. I occasionally add clarifying notes. And I make some minor corrections.

OBJECTIVE: To test the hypothesis that the prevalence of specific musculoskeletal pain symptoms has increased over time in the northwest region of England. To meet this objective we have examined the difference in the prevalence of low back, shoulder and widespread pain between the 1950s and today using historical data collected by the Arthritis Research Campaign (arc).

METHODS: Two cross-sectional surveys conducted over 40 yr apart in the northwest region of England. The status of two regional pain sites and widespread pain was determined using interview and questionnaire responses, for the earlier and later studies respectively. Subjects were classified positively if they reported low back pain, shoulder pain or widespread pain on the day of the survey. Rates were standardized to the Greater Manchester population.

RESULTS: There were large differences in the prevalence of musculoskeletal pain between the two surveys. For all three symptoms examined prevalence increased from 2- to 4-fold between the two surveys. In both surveys low back pain was more common in women. Shoulder and widespread pain was less prevalent in women than in men in the earlier survey but by the time of the later survey women reported more pain at these sites.

CONCLUSIONS: The prevalence of musculoskeletal pain is much higher than that reported over 40 yr ago. The change in prevalence is unlikely to be entirely due to the study design; other possible explanations such as the increased reporting or awareness of these symptoms is discussed.

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