Persistence and remission of musculoskeletal pain in community-dwelling older adults: Results from the Cardiovascular Health Study

Stephen M. Thielke, Heather Whitson, Paula Diehr, Ann O'Hare, Patricia M. Kearney, Sarwat I. Chaudhry, Neil A. Zakai, Dae Kim, Nishant Sekaran, Joanna E.M. Sale, Alice M. Arnold, Paulo Chaves, Anne Newman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Scopus citations


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.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1393-1400
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of the American Geriatrics Society
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 2012
Externally publishedYes


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

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geriatrics and Gerontology


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