Massage clients often come to massage session with pain—in various body areas, and of varying severity. In fact, pain is one of the top reasons people seek out massage therapy.

A new study shows persistent pain may accelerate signs of aging by two to three decades in middle-aged adults, and people with pain develop the functional limitations classically associated with aging at much earlier ages. This is according to to a press release from Wiley-Blackwell, publishers of the Journal of the American Geriatric Society, in which the study ran in September.

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. Among the results:

• 24 percent of participants had significant pain (often troubled by pain that was moderate or severe most of the time) 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, of subjects aged 50 to 59 without pain 37 percent were able to jog one mile and 91 percent were able to walk several blocks without difficulty, compared to only 9 percent and 50 percent, respectively, in those with pain.

“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,” said lead researcher Kenneth Covinsky of the Division of Geriatrics at University of California, San Francisco, “making pain sufferers appear 20 to 30 years older than non-pain sufferers.”

Covinsky added that this study does not 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,” he said.