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OBJECTIVE: To test the hypothesis that the prevalence of specific musculoskeletal pain symptoms has increased over time in the northwest region of England. To meet this objective we have examined the difference in the prevalence of low back, shoulder and widespread pain between the 1950s and today using historical data collected by the Arthritis Research Campaign (arc). METHODS: Two cross-sectional surveys conducted over 40 yr apart in the northwest region of England. The status of two regional pain sites and widespread pain was determined using interview and questionnaire responses, for the earlier and later studies respectively. Subjects were classified positively if they reported low back pain, shoulder pain or widespread pain on the day of the survey. Rates were standardized to the Greater Manchester population. RESULTS: There were large differences in the prevalence of musculoskeletal pain between the two surveys. For all three symptoms examined prevalence increased from 2- to 4-fold between the two surveys. In both surveys low back pain was more common in women. Shoulder and widespread pain was less prevalent in women than in men in the earlier survey but by the time of the later survey women reported more pain at these sites. CONCLUSIONS: The prevalence of musculoskeletal pain is much higher than that reported over 40 yr ago. The change in prevalence is unlikely to be entirely due to the study design; other possible explanations such as the increased reporting or awareness of these symptoms is discussed.

Original publication




Journal article


Rheumatology (oxford)

Publication Date





890 - 895


Adolescent, Adult, Age Distribution, Cross-Sectional Studies, England, Female, Humans, Low Back Pain, Male, Middle Aged, Musculoskeletal Diseases, Pain, Pain Measurement, Prevalence, Sex Distribution, Shoulder Pain