Poor Sleep Predicts Musculoskeletal Pain in Older Adults


New-onset widespread pain (WP) is common in older adults and is predicted by a number of factors including baseline pain status, anxiety, and physical health–related quality of life. Non-restorative sleep is the strongest predictor, however, for WP in this patient population, according to a new study.

John McBeth, PhD, reader in epidemiology, the Arthritis Research UK Primary Care Centre of Keele University in Staffordshire, United Kingdom, and colleagues published the results of their population-based study online February 13 in Arthritis and Rheumatology. The study was designed to identify the factors associated with the development of new-onset WP.

The cohort consisted of 4326 unselected older people (≥50 years of age) who lived in a community setting. In the 3-year follow-up, 800 (18.5%) reported new WP. Socio-demographic, psychological, and clinical factors were all reasonable predictors of new-onset WP.

Increasing age was associated with a decreased likelihood of reporting new-onset WP. The frequency of those with musculoskeletal pain increases with age but appears to stabilize or slightly decrease in those aged 70.

The results suggest that simply treating the patients for osteoarthritis may not be sufficient. The clinical approach to managing WP in older adults may need to move beyond focusing on treatment of osteoarthritis alone and consider combined interventions. This study suggests that in addition to osteoarthritis, sleep, cognitive impairment, anxiety and physical health may be important treatment targets.

Management and treatment of musculoskeletal pain in older adults is currently suboptimal. The current study points to the need to address underlying sleep problems to bring pain relief to this problem.

Arthritis Rheum. Published online February 13, 2014.

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