Persistent Pain May Accelerate Signs of Aging

photo: elderly woman

Pain and disability may often be
part of the same underlying process;
© Pixelio

Functional limitations that impair the ability to live independently increase markedly with age, and to examine the effect researchers looked at the data from the 18,531 participants, aged 50 and older, who took part in the 2004 Health and Retirement Study. The four physical abilities considered were: mobility, for example walking or jogging; stair climbing; upper extremity tasks, and; activity of daily living (bathing, dressing, eating etc) with or without help.

24% of participants had significant pain and across all four physical abilities looked at, participants with pain had much higher rates of functional limitations than subjects without pain. In the mobility function as an example, of subjects aged 50 to 59 without pain 37% were able to jog 1 mile and 91% were able to walk several blocks without difficulty, compared to only 9% and 50% respectively in those with pain.

The study was led by Dr. Kenneth Covinsky of the Division of Geriatrics at University of California, San Francisco. “We found that the abilities of those aged 50 to 59 with pain were far more comparable to subjects aged 80 to 89 without pain, of whom 4% were able to jog 1 mile and 55% were able to walk several blocks, making pain sufferers appear 20 to 30 years older than non-pain sufferers,” surmised Covinsky. “After adjustment for demographic characteristics, socioeconomic status, comorbid conditions, depression, obesity, and health habits, across all four measures, participants with significant pain were at much higher risk for having functional limitations.”

“Our study cannot determine whether pain causes disability or whether disability causes pain. We think it is likely that both are true and that pain and disability probably can act together in ways that make both problems worsen in a downward spiral,” said Dr. Covinsky.; Source: Journal of the American Geriatrics Society