Objectives. To assess the prevalence of chronic musculoskeletal complaints (MSCs) in a large adult population, and to determine any changes in prevalence during an 11-year period.
Methods. This study involved two large cross-sectional surveys (Helseundersøkelsen i Nord-Trøndelag [HUNT] 2 and 3) of inhabitants in Nord-Trøndelag county aged ≥20 years performed in 1995–97 (N = 92,936) and 2006–08 (N = 94,194). Attendance rates were 70 and 42%, respectively. Respondents with chronic MSCs were identified through the screening question “Have you during the last year continuously for at least 3 months had pain and/or stiffness in muscles and joints?” The reliability of the screening question was evaluated in a random sample of participants (N = 563).
Results. The reliability of the screening question was good (kappa value 0.63, 95% confidence interval [CI] 0.53–0.73). In HUNT 3, 48% had chronic MSCs and 20% had chronic widespread MSCs. The age-adjusted prevalence of chronic MSCs was higher (P < 0.001) in HUNT 3 (47.9%, 95% CI 47.6–48.2) compared with HUNT 2 (44.8%, 95% CI 44.5–45.2), evident for both genders, and most prominent in the age group 20–29 years. Chronic widespread MSCs were more common in HUNT 3 than in HUNT 2 among women (28.2 vs 26.0%, P < 0.001). Increased prevalence during the 11-year period was also found in supplementary analyses evaluating the influence of differences in participation rate.
Conclusions. The prevalence of chronic MSCs and chronic widespread MSCs is high. The prevalence of chronic MSCs increased during the 11-year period. A nonresponse bias interfering with the comparisons over time could not completely be ruled out.