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Disabling Back Pain Increases Mortality Risk for Older Women

Aug 7, 2014

New British research suggests that disabling back pain puts women in their seventies at an increased risk of death.

Findings from the Cambridge City over-75s Cohort confirm those from other studies indicating a relationship between back pain and increased mortality, say the researchers.
“In addition, we present new data to suggest that this association may be limited to disabling pain and appears to be specific to women,” according to News Medical (

The researchers, led by Rachael Docking of the University of Aberdeen, collected comprehensive data on back pain and the degree to which it affected daily life for 1174 participants at least 75 years old. Back pain was considered disabling if it had interfered with daily tasks within the preceding month, according to News Medical. The average age of the participants was 85 years and 65 percent were female. The date of death was known for 1158. Fifteen participants were still living and one who had moved abroad was untraceable. The study was published in the European Journal of Pain.

In all, 65 participants (6%) had disabling back pain, the rate of which increased with age. Participants over 90 were more than twice as likely to have disabling pain as those aged 70–79, News Medical says. The presence of such pain increased the likelihood of death a significant 1.4-fold compared with no back pain, and it remained a significant predictor, albeit of borderline significance, after adjustment for socio-demographical variables and potential confounders such as use of medication, shortness of breath and falls.

Women were more likely than men to experience disabling back pain (7.2% vs. 2.7%), and it increased their risk of death a significant 1.4-fold after adjusting for confounders. Any increased risk of death associated with disabling back pain in men disappeared after adjustments for socio-demographical and health-related variables. The researchers feel that women’s chronic pain may be etiologically different from men’s, according to News Medical. Further, they suggest that patients with disabling pain may have factors that could increase the risk of death, such as lower levels of physical activity, manual work, or a poor diet.

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