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Association between musculoskeletal pain with social isolation and loneliness: analysis of the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing


Tags: chronic pain, anxiety, pain problems, mind

Four articles on PainSci cite Smith 2019: (1) Anxiety & Chronic Pain(2) 34 Surprising Causes of Pain(3) Vulnerability to Chronic Pain(4) Chronic Pain and Inequality

PainSci notes on Smith 2019:

This study looked for a link between chronic musculoskeletal pain, and loneliness and social isolation in several thousand older adults. They found that subjects in pain were actually less likely to be socially isolated, but more likely to be lonely, an interesting apparent contradiction. However, loneliness is probably what matters: that is, social isolation isn’t a problem if you don’t feel socially isolated (lonely).

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.

INTRODUCTION: Musculoskeletal pain is a prevalent health challenge for all age groups worldwide, but most notably in older adults. Social isolation is the consequence of a decrease in social network size with a reduction in the number of social contacts. Loneliness is the psychological embodiment of social isolation and represents an individual's perception of dissatisfaction in the quality or quantity of their social contacts. This study aims to determine whether a relationship exists between musculoskeletal pain and social isolation and loneliness.

METHODS: A cross-sectional analysis of the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing (ELSA) cohort was undertaken. ELSA is a nationally representative sample of the non-institutionalised population of individuals aged 50 years and over based in England. Data were gathered on social isolation through the ELSA Social Isolation Index, loneliness through the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) Loneliness Scale and musculoskeletal pain. Data for covariates included physical activity, depression score, socioeconomic status, access to transport and demographic characteristics. Logistic regression analyses were undertaken to determine the relationship between social isolation and loneliness with pain and the additional covariates.

RESULTS: A total of 9299 participants were included in the analysis. This included 4125 (44.4%) males, with a mean age of 65.8 years. There was a significant association where social isolation was lower for those in pain (odd ratio (OR): 0.87; 95% confidence intervals (CI): 0.75 to 0.99), whereas the converse occurred for loneliness where this was higher for those in pain (OR: 1.15; 95% CI: 1.01 to 1.31). Age, occupation, physical activity and depression were all associated with increased social isolation and loneliness.

CONCLUSION: People who experience chronic musculoskeletal pain are at greater risk of being lonely, but at less risk of being socially isolated. Health professionals should consider the wider implications of musculoskeletal pain on individuals, to reduce the risk of negative health implications associated with loneliness from impacting on individual's health and well-being.

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