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Keywords:

  • pain;
  • musculoskeletal;
  • longitudinal analysis;
  • remission;
  • persistence;
  • symptoms

Objectives

To characterize longitudinal patterns of musculoskeletal pain in a community sample of older adults over a 6-year period and to identify factors associated with persistence of pain.

Design

Secondary analysis of the Cardiovascular Health Study.

Setting

Community-based cohort drawn from four U.S. counties.

Participants

Five thousand ninety-three men and women aged 65 and older.

Measurements

Over a 6-year period, pain was assessed each year using a single question about the presence of pain in any bones or joints during the last year. If affirmative, participants were queried about pain in seven locations (hands, shoulders, neck, back, hips, knees, feet). Participants were categorized according to the percentage of time that pain was present and according to the intermittent or chronic pattern of pain. Factors associated with persistent pain during five remaining years of the study were identified.

Results

Over 6 years, 32% of participants reported pain for three or more consecutive years, and 32% reported pain intermittently. Of those who reported pain the first year, 54% were pain free at least once during the follow-up period. Most of the pain at specific body locations was intermittent. Factors associated with remission of pain over 5 years included older age, male sex, better self-rated health, not being obese, taking fewer medications, and having fewer depressive symptoms. Approximately half of those with pain reported fewer pain locations the following year.

Conclusion

Musculoskeletal pain in older adults, despite high prevalence, is often intermittent. The findings refute the notion that pain is an inevitable, unremitting, or progressive consequence of aging.