Study finds strong link between restless sleep and widespread pain in older adults

United Kingdom (U.K.) researchers are calling for treatments that address site-specific pain as well as widespread pain in older adults after conducting a study that dentified factors that increased the risk of developing widespread pain in that population.

Restless sleep was found to be the strongest independent predictor of widespread pain onset among adults aged more than 50 years. Increasing age, however, was associated with a decreased likelihood of the development of widespread pain.

Anxiety, memory impairment and poor physical health also may increase the risk of developing widespread pain, the investigators found.

Researchers from the Arthritis Research U.K. Primary Care Centre at Keele University in Staffordshire, led by John McBeth, PhD, collected data on pain, psychological and physical health, lifestyle and demographic information from 4,326 adults aged more than 50 years. All were free of widespread pain at the start of the study (1,562 of participants reported no pain, and 2,764 had some pain). After three years, researchers checked with the participants to see whether widespread pain had developed.

At follow-up, they found that 800 participants (19 percent) reported new widespread pain. The development of new widespread pain was greater in those who had had some pain at the start of the study; 679 (25 percent) of those with some pain and 121 (8 percent) of those with no pain at the start developed new widespread pain by the three-year follow-up.

Analyses determined that pain status, anxiety, physical health-related quality of life, cognitive complaint and non-restorative sleep were associated with increased risk of widespread pain development, after adjusting for osteoarthritis.

"While [osteoarthritis] is linked to new onset of widespread pain, our findings also found that poor sleep, cognition, and physical and psychological health may increase pain risk," McBeth said in a press release from Wiley, publisher of the journal in which the research appears. "Combined interventions that treat both site-specific and widespread pain are needed for older adults."

The population-based prospective study is newly published in Arthritis & Rheumatology (formerly Arthritis & Rheumatism), a journal of the American College of Rheumatology.

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Topics: Clinical