Physical, Psychosocial Activity May Be Protective Against Development of Chronic Pain in Older Adults

An elderly couple jogging
An elderly couple jogging
Weekly vigorous activity and cultural engagement may protect against the development of chronic pain in older adults.

Weekly vigorous activity and cultural engagement may protect against the development of chronic pain in older adults, according to a recent study published in the Journal of Pain.

Investigators examined data from a longitudinal cohort study to track the pain progression of 2631 adults living in England (average age, 63.0 years) during a 10-year period. Participants were free from chronic pain at baseline and were asked to self-report any pain they experienced throughout the study period.

For physical factors, participants reported the number of times they took part each week in vigorous activities such as stretching and muscle endurance training. For psychosocial factors, they reported the frequency with which they engaged with community groups (ie, political parties, trade unions, or sports clubs) and participated in cultural activities (ie, visiting museums, art galleries, or concerts).

During the study period, 42.5% of the cohort experienced moderate to severe chronic pain. Individuals who engaged in vigorous weekly activity were found to experience lower incidence of chronic pain (odds ratio, 0.74), but moderate activity (ie, muscle strength exercises) had no protective effect on the development of chronic pain. Involvement in cultural activities, but not community group participation, was found to be associated with a protective effect against the development of chronic pain (odds ratio, 0.75).

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Study limitations included its observational nature, which precluded the researchers from assessing causality, and an assessment of physical activity through self-report vs objective tests.

“This study is the first to explore simultaneously potential physical and psychosocial protective factors for the development of chronic pain in older adults. Our results demonstrate that both vigorous weekly activity and regular cultural engagement appear to reduce risk of incident chronic moderate-severe pain,” concluded the study authors.


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Fancourt D, Steptoe A. Physical and psychosocial factors in the prevention of chronic pain in older age [published online June 8, 2018]. J Pain. doi: 10.1016/j.jpain.2018.06.001