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28-09-2014 | Rheumatology | Article

Weekly musculoskeletal pain on the rise among young adults


Free abstract

medwireNews: Research from Finland shows an increase in the prevalence of frequent musculoskeletal symptoms in young adults, which suggests the need for early intervention.

“If the trend of increasing musculoskeletal symptoms in young adults is continuing, it is possible that in the future, there will be more chronic and prolonged pain problems with working age population and with elderly people”, say the researchers, led by Airi Oksanen (Turku University Hospital)

“As preventive programs could be effective in an individual level, but also cost-effective on the level of society, they should be studied carefully in young adults.”

The team compared four cross-sectional samples of undergraduate students younger than 35 years of age who completed extensive questionnaires on physical, mental and social health and health behaviour. The samples comprised 3174 individuals in 2000, 3153 in 2004, 2750 in 2008 and 2425 in 2012. Women were over-represented in each sample, at 54% to 74% compared with 38% to 53% of men.

All types of pain increased significantly from 2000 to 2012. The most common weekly pain symptom and the one that increased the most over time was neck–shoulder pain, the prevalence of which rose from 25% to 29%. This was followed by increases of 10% to 14% for lower back pain, 7% to 8% for limb and joint pain and 4% to 5% for temporomandibular joint pain.

All types of pain were significantly more common in women than men, with relative risks ranging from 1.2 for limb or joint pain to 3.2 for temporomandibular joint pain, and prevalence was higher in students aged at least 25 years compared with younger students.

Similarly, women were 2.5 times more likely to experience multiple pain symptoms than men, while older students were 1.3 times more likely than younger students. The proportion of students experiencing multiple co-existing musculoskeletal pain also increased over time.

Given the individual impact of musculoskeletal pain on quality of life and working life, and the societal burden in terms of increased use of healthcare services, the researchers stress in the European Journal of Pain the need for preventive programmes with physiological, psychological and lifestyle approaches.

This was echoed by Peter Van Wambeke and Bart Morlion, from University Hospitals Leuven in Belgium, in a related commentary, who say that “[h]ealth systems will need to develop effective and affordable strategies to respond to this growing and nearly universal burden of [musculoskeletal pain]”, and should focus on prevention and detection at a young age.

medwireNews ( is an independent clinical news service provided by Springer Healthcare Limited. © Springer Healthcare Ltd; 2014

By Lucy Piper, Senior medwireNews Reporter