New research shows older adults who reported chronic musculoskeletal pain in two or more locations, higher levels of severe pain, or pain that interfered with daily activities were more likely to experience a fall than adults who did not reports these types of pain.
“Falls rank among the 10 leading causes of death in older adults in the United States, resulting in more than $19 billion in health care costs annually,” the study’s authors noted. “Pain contributes to functional decline and muscle weakness and is associated with mobility limitations that could predispose to falls.”
Researchers at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and the University of Massachusetts-Boston set out to see whether chronic musculoskeletal pain is associated with an increased occurrence of falls in older adults.
The study included 749 adults, age 70 years and older. At the beginning of the study, 40 percent of participants reported chronic pain in more than one joint area and 24 percent reported chronic pain in only one joint area. A total of 1,029 falls were reported by the 749 participants during and up to 18 months of follow-up. Four hundred five participants (55 percent) fell at least once during the follow-up.
Analysis indicated that compared with participants who reported no pain or those in the lowest groups of pain scores, participants who reported two or more sites of pain had an increased risk for falls; those reporting the highest levels of pain severity also had an increased rate of falls; and pain interference with activities was also associated with a greater occurrence of falls.
The authors suggest there may be several possible mechanisms for the pain-falls relationship, including neuromuscular effects of pain, which could lead to leg muscle weakness or slowed neuromuscular responses to an impending fall; or gait alterations or adaptations to chronic pain that lead to instability and subsequent balance impairments.