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BACKGROUND: Musculoskeletal (MSK) pain is common in older adults. Physical and psychological consequences of MSK pain have been established, but it is also important to consider the social impact. We aimed to estimate the association between MSK pain and loneliness, social support and social engagement. METHODS: We used baseline data from the Oxford Pain, Activity and Lifestyle study. Participants were community-dwelling adults aged 65 years or older from across England. Participants reported demographic information, MSK pain by body site, loneliness, social support and social engagement. We categorised pain by body regions affected (upper limb, lower limb and spinal). Widespread pain was defined as pain in all three regions. We used logistic regression models to estimate associations between distribution of pain and social factors, controlling for covariates. RESULTS: Of the 4977 participants analysed, 4193 (84.2%) reported any MSK pain, and one-quarter (n = 1298) reported widespread pain. Individuals reporting any pain were more likely to report loneliness (OR [odds ratio]: 1.62; 95% CI [confidence interval]: 1.32-1.97) or insufficient social support (OR: 1.54; 95% CI: 1.08-2.19) compared to those reporting no pain. Widespread pain had the strongest association with loneliness (OR: 1.94; 95% CI: 1.53-2.46) and insufficient social support (OR: 1.71; 95% CI: 1.14-2.54). Pain was not associated with social engagement. CONCLUSIONS: Older adults commonly report MSK pain, which is associated with loneliness and perceived insufficiency of social support. This finding highlights to clinicians and researchers the need to consider social implications of MSK pain in addition to physical and psychological consequences.

Original publication




Journal article


Musculoskeletal care

Publication Date



musculoskeletal, older people, psychological and social impact