UK study: Sleep quality is a strong predictor of chronic pain

About Liz Seegert

Liz Seegert (@lseegert), is AHCJ’s topic editor on aging. Her work has appeared in, Journal of Active Aging, Cancer Today, Kaiser Health News, the Connecticut Health I-Team and other outlets. She is a senior fellow at the Center for Health Policy and Media Engagement at George Washington University and co-produces the HealthCetera podcast.

Image by Tobyotter via flickr.

Image by Tobyotter via flickr.

Non-restorative sleep is the strongest, independent predictor of widespread pain onset among adults over the age of 50, according to a new study in Arthritis & Rheumatology. Researchers in the United Kingdom found anxiety, memory impairment and poor physical health among older adults may also increase the risk of developing widespread pain.

Chronic pain affects more than 100 million Americans at a cost topping $600 billion annually, according to the Alliance for Aging Research. Musculoskeletal pain is more prevalent as people age, with up to 80 percent of people 65 years of age and older experiencing daily pain. Widespread pain that affects multiple areas of the body – the hallmark feature of fibromyalgia – affects 15 percent of women and 10 percent of men over age 50 according to previous studies. While there is no cure for chronic pain, several studies suggest that exercise and Vitamin D supplements may be beneficial.

This latest, population-based prospective study identified factors that increase the risk of the development of widespread pain in older adults. The team collected data on pain, psychological and physical health, lifestyle and demographic information from 4,326 adults over the age of 50 who were free of widespread pain at the start of the study (1,562 subjects reported no pain and 2,764 had some pain). Participants were followed up with three years later for the development of widespread pain.

Results show that at follow up, 800 (19 percent) reported new widespread pain. The development of new widespread pain was greater in those with some pain at the start of the study; 679 (25 percent) of those with some pain and 121 (8 percent) of those with no pain at the start developed new widespread pain at the three-year follow-up.

Analyses determined that pain status, anxiety, physical health-related quality of life, cognitive complaint and non-restorative sleep were associated with increased risk of widespread pain development, after adjusting for osteoarthritis (OA). Increasing age was associated with a decreased likelihood of the development of widespread pain.

“While OA is linked to new onset of widespread pain, our findings also found that poor sleep, cognition, and physical and psychological health may increase pain risk,” concluded John McBeth, M.D., of the Arthritis Research UK Primary Care Centre and Keele University in Staffordshire. “Combined interventions that treat both site-specific and widespread pain are needed for older adults.”

Poorly managed chronic pain in older adults has previously been linked to depression, impaired physical function, more social isolation due to reduced daily activities, exacerbation of other medical conditions, diminished quality of life, and increased risk of suicide,


1 thought on “UK study: Sleep quality is a strong predictor of chronic pain

  1. Pingback: Poor Sleep Strongly Predicts Chronic Pain | Doctor Steven Y. Park, MD | New York, NY | Integrative Solutions for Obstructive Sleep Apnea, Upper Airway Resistance Syndrome, and Snoring

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