Patients with chronic pain may have shorter telomere length compared with people without chronic pain, according to a cross-sectional study published in the Journal of Pain. These findings suggest that chronic pain may be associated with premature aging,

A total of 116 adults (mean age, 54.25 years) participated in this study. Sixty seven participants had chronic pain while 49 participants did not have chronic pain. Eighty six study participants had a physical disability caused by poliomyelitis or spinal cord injuries.  

During an initial interview visit, blood was taken from each participant to measure telomere length in leukocytes. The investigators also assessed whether participants performed physical exercise on a regular basis. Questionnaires were completed to identify the presence, duration, and functional level associated with any physical disabilities.

In patients with chronic pain, the chronic pain intensity ranged between 3 to 10 visual analog scale (VAS) units. The pain interference score ranged between 1 and 4 units (median, 3 units). Additionally, chronic pain had lasted for a mean of 14 years up to study entry (14.42 ± 9.09; range 1-40 years). Approximately 49.1% (n=57) of the study participants said they participated in regular physical exercise.


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A significantly shorter telomere length was found in individuals with chronic pain vs those without chronic pain after analysis of covariance adjusting for age (5.51 ± 1.40 vs 7.21 ± 1.54 kb, respectively) and physical disability (F(1, 112), 4.75).

In participants with physical disability, chronic pain was significantly associated with a shorter telomere length (F(1,83), 4.12; P <.05).

Limitations of this study were the inclusion of only men as well as the cross-sectional nature of the analysis.

The investigators concluded that, based on these findings, patients with chronic pain “should be monitored for age-related diseases and pathological conditions already in adulthood as part of their clinical management.”

Reference

Lahav Y, Levy D, Ohry A, et al. Chronic pain and premature aging – the moderating role of physical exercise. Published online August 13, 2020. J Pain. doi:10.1016/j.jpain.2020.08.001