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Researchers find link between chronic pain and heart disease

03 March 2014 @TeessideUni


Elderly people who have chronic muscle pain are at a significantly increased risk of having heart disease – researchers at Teesside University have found.

Almost half of elderly people who have suffered chronic musculoskeletal pain (CMP) go on to suffer cardiovascular disease (CVD), researchers suggest.

And people aged over 65-years-old who have chronic musculoskeletal pain are 82% more likely to have cardiovascular problems than those who do not have CMP.

The team, led by Dr Cormac Ryan from Teesside University, is calling for the treatment of chronic musculoskeletal pain to be made a public health priority and say it could act as a prevention strategy for cardiovascular disease.

Dr Ryan, Senior Lecturer in Research in the School of Health & Social Care, said: 'Our findings suggest that the appropriate management of chronic musculoskeletal pain should not simply be viewed as an intervention for chronic musculoskeletal pain in itself, but also a preventive strategy to reduce the risk of developing cardiovascular disease.'

Researchers at Teesside University collaborated with academics in Northern Ireland and America to look at a sample of over 5,300 adults aged over 45-years-old. The sample of people had participated in the Health Survey for England in 2008.

Of those aged 65 and over, 32.5% reported having chronic musculoskeletal pain. And, of these individuals almost half, 47%, had cardiovascular disease. This is compared with 28% having cardiovascular disease who did not have chronic musculoskeletal pain.

Middle-aged adults, from 45-64-years-old, who had chronic musculoskeletal pain were also at an increased risk of developing cardiovascular disease, with 23% of those having CMP going on to develop CVP, compared with 14% who had not had CMP.

Dr Ryan said the findings suggest that chronic musculoskeletal pain can be a factor in causing cardiovascular disease.

'Musculoskeletal pain impairs movement, leading to the individual becoming more sedentary which is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease,' explained Dr Ryan.

'Chronic musculoskeletal pain is also associated with increased inflammation activity within the body which could contribute towards atherosclerosis which is a hardening or narrowing of the arteries.

'It is also associated with obesity, via reduced physical activity and increased non-hunger related feeding, and obesity is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease.

'Finally, chronic musculoskeletal pain is itself a stressful experience and the associated functional and socioeconomic consequences of chronic pain can also be stressful for the individual, again stress is an important risk factor for cardiovascular disease.

'Clinically, this study suggests the intriguing implication that chronic musculoskeletal pain may be a modifiable risk factor for cardiovascular disease.

'Considering, on average, 10% of the world’s population report chronic musculoskeletal pain, this could have far reaching implications for cardiovascular disease prevention, giving support to previous calls for chronic musculoskeletal pain to be considered as a public health priority.'

Collaborative project to help patients with chronic lower back pain A joint clinical project between James Cook University Hospital and Teesside University is examining ways to help patients with chronic lower back pain better understand pain and issues around its causes.

The project will examine how pain neurophysiology education, a cognitive behavioural based intervention which aims to reduce pain and disability by explaining the biology of pain to the patient, can help patients to reconceptualise their understanding of pain and what is causing it.

Since its development 10 years ago this intervention has grown in popularity with both therapists and patients alike and it is now widely used by physiotherapist’s throughout the UK.

The 12 month project is being funded by the Physiotherapy Research Foundation with Richard King, Senior Specialist Physiotherapist in Chronic Pain at James Cook University Hospital’s Pain Clinic, as the clinical lead and Dr Cormac Ryan and Professor Denis Martin, from Teesside University, providing academic support.