Low back pain and disability in older women: Independent association with difficulty but not inability to perform daily activities

Suzanne G. Leveille, Jack M. Guralnik, Marc Hochberg, Rosemarie Hirsch, Luigi Ferrucci, Jean Langlois, Taina Rantanen, Shari Ling

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

98 Scopus citations


Background. Low back pain is a highly prevalent chronic condition, yet little is known about the disabling effects of this common problem in older adults. This study examines the relationship between the presence and severity of low back pain and disability in older women. Methods. The study population was 1,002 disabled older women participating in a population- based prospective study of disablement. Key outcome measures of disability included level of difficulty and inability to perform the following daily activities: light housework, shopping, walking one-quarter mile, climbing stairs, lifting, and activities of daily living (ADLs). Results. Forty-two percent of participants reported they had low back pain for at least one month in the year before baseline. The prevalence of severe hack pain decreased markedly with age (10% of those ≥ 85 yr versus 23% in each of the two younger 10 yr age groups). After multivariate adjustments, women with severe back pain were 3 to 4 times more likely than other women to have a lot of difficulty with light housework or shopping. There was also an increased likelihood of difficulty with mobility tasks and basic ADLs among those with severe back pain. No associations were found between back pain and being unable to perform any of the daily activities studied, indicating possible differences in disablement processes leading to functional difficulties versus functional incapacity. Conclusions. There was a strong association between back pain and functional difficulties in older women, pointing to the need for further research using longitudinal methods.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)M487-M493
JournalJournals of Gerontology - Series A Biological Sciences and Medical Sciences
Issue number10
StatePublished - Oct 1999
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Aging
  • Geriatrics and Gerontology


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