Objective. To determine the relationships between low back pain (LBP) frequency and intensity and self-reported and performance-based physical function in a large cohort of well-functioning older adults.
Design. Cross-sectional survey and examination.
Setting. Community-based cohort of the Health, Aging, and Body Composition (Health ABC) study.
Participants. Participants were 2,766 community-dwelling adults, aged 70–79; 42% were African American, 52% were men.
Outcome Measures. 1) Back pain—location, frequency, intensity; 2) Hip and/or knee pain; 3) Body mass index (BMI); 4) Self-reported difficulty doing functional tasks; 5) Lower extremity function, using the battery from the Established Populations for Epidemiologic Studies in the Elderly (EPESE); 6) Self-rated health; 7) Comorbidity; 8) Depressive symptoms, using the Center for Epidemiological Studies-Depression (CES-D) scale.
Results. LBP was common (36%), and its frequency/intensity was significantly associated with other pain and comorbidities. In gender-specific models, LBP frequency/intensity was not significantly associated with EPESE performance score after adjusting for age, race, BMI, CES-D score, knee pain, hip pain, and other comorbidities. LBP frequency/intensity, however, was significantly associated with self-reported difficulty with most functional tasks after adjusting for important confounders.
Conclusions. Among well-functioning community-dwelling older adults, LBP frequency/intensity was associated with perceived difficulty in performing important functional tasks, but not with observed physical performance. The demonstrated dose-response relationship between pain frequency/intensity and self-reported task performance difficulty underscores the importance of clinical efforts to treat pain without necessarily eradicating it. Additional work is needed to determine whether back pain is associated with a risk for progressive functional decline and loss of independence in older adults and whether therapeutic interventions can ameliorate decline and, therefore, preserve independence.