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Severity of musculoskeletal pain: relations to socioeconomic inequality

By Mette Brekke, Per Hjortdahl and Tore K. Kvien


The main aim of the study was to investigate possible associations between severity of non-inflammatory musculoskeletal pain and residential areas of contrasting socioeconomic status. A 4-page questionnaire inquiring about musculoskeletal pain, and also physical disability, mental health, life satisfaction and use of health services was sent to 10,000 randomly selected adults in Oslo, Norway. For the purpose of this study, we analysed data from respondents living in two socioeconomically contrasting areas of the city. Measures of pain (intensity, duration, localisation), physical disability (MHAQ), mental distress (SCL-5, sleep disturbances), life satisfaction and use of health services (general practitioner, rheumatologist, medication, involvement in and satisfaction with own care) were compared between respondents living in the two areas (n=870 and n=892 respondents, respectively) of whom 493 in each area reported non-inflammatory musculoskeletal pain. Multiple regression analyses adjusting for age revealed that living in the less affluent area was associated with strong and widespread pain, with high levels of physical disability and mental distress and with low life satisfaction. Living in the less affluent area was also associated with frequent use of analgesics and with low level of involvement in own health care, after adjustment for age, pain intensity and levels of physical disability and mental distress. Non-inflammatory musculoskeletal pain seems to be a more serious condition in a population living in a less affluent residential area compared with a more affluent one, even in an egalitarian society like Norway. Increased disease severity may thus amplify the impact of greater chronic morbidity in the disadvantaged part of the population. This should have implications for health care provision if the goal is treatment according to needs.Socioeconomic inequality Disease severity Health status Musculoskeletal pain Rheumatism Health service research

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