People living with multiple conditions are more likely to have chronic pain.

18 January 2022

Chronic pain affects 28 million people in the UK, and this number is increasing over time. Unfortunately, current treatment options are limited, and how pain works is not well understood. This is where our research comes in; by investing in pain research as a priority, we hope we can address these problems and ultimately take the pain away.

New research from the University of Glasgow, recently published in the Journal of Multimorbidity and Comorbidity found that over half (53.8%) of people with two or three long term conditions (this is known as multimorbidity) reported at least one site of chronic pain.

This means that those people were twice as likely to experience chronic pain than that of a person with no long-term conditions.

Why is this pain research study important?

Dr Barbara Nicholl, Senior Lecturer at the University’s Institute of Health and Wellbeing, said:

"This study is important because it highlights a much-neglected area of healthcare - namely the coexistence of chronic pain and multimorbidity. Our study shows that the presence of chronic pain should be a key factor for consideration in the management of patients with 2 or more other long-term conditions.

"Going forward, this area needs more research and clinical consideration. It’s vital for healthcare providers to understand the impact of chronic pain on health-related outcomes in order to inform the needs and management of care in people who experience chronic pain alongside other long-term conditions."

How was the research carried out?

The Glasgow research team looked at persistent musculoskeletal (MSK) pain conditions and rheumatoid arthritis using mixed methods and data sets e.g. the UK Biobank.

They also conducted interviews with people living with MSK conditions and healthcare professionals. These interviews were with GPs, nurses, district nurses, physiotherapists to rheumatologists to gain insight on how they treat people with long-term conditions.

How will the study findings help people with arthritis?

This study can help people with arthritis as it’s one of the first which looks at the levels of chronic pain in people with a broad range of long-term health conditions. Improving our understanding of chronic pain and having a person-centred approach will help health professionals to better manage patients when deciding on treatments.

Dr Neha Issar-Brown, Director of Research at Versus Arthritis, commented:

"Almost a third of people over the age of 45 with a major long-term condition also have a musculoskeletal condition such as arthritis and that is why we are pleased to have funded the first study to ascertain and understand the prevalence of chronic pain in people affected by multiple long-term conditions.

"These findings are important not only to improve our understanding of chronic pain associated with multiple long-term conditions but will also lead to improved management and treatments for the millions of people who experience the devastating impact of living with pain."

A look to the future…

We know that getting effective treatments for arthritis alongside other conditions can be complicated. Easy access to information, treatments and support is very difficult for people with arthritis to manage across multiple health conditions.

Through research, we want to see person-centred treatments, including the management of pain, mental health and fatigue, so that people get the treatment that’s right for them at the right time.

Over the next four years, we will invest in research to understand the social and psychological factors influencing and predicting disease progression and outcomes to inform treatments that meet the needs of people living with multiple long-term conditions.

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