Chronic Widespread Pain: Some Societies Feel it More

Chronic musculoskeletal pain (CWP) felt throughout the body is a global problem that affects an estimated 10% to 15% of the general population, British researchers have found. But some societies report far more CWP than others.

Chronic musculoskeletal pain (CWP) felt throughout the body is a global problem that affects an estimated 10% to 15% of the general population, British researchers have found.

But they found a wide geographic disparity in which societies have the highest rates of people afflicted with such ailments.

Kathryn E. Mansfield, PhD of the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine and colleagues, writing in Pain said their review of specific population studies showed the prevalence of CWP ranged from 0% to 24%.

The authors found a study of Pima Indians in Arizona showed these Native Americans do not experience CWP at all.

At the other end of the spectrum, a study of the low socio-economic population of Sao Paulo, Brazil reported the highest CWP rate of 24%.

Two separate Israeli studies produced divergent CWP rates of 10.2% and 5.1%.

The team noted that CWP often is accompanied by polysymptomatiac distress: fatigue, psychological distress,and concentration problems. To be considered chronic, these symptoms must persist for three months or longer.

The researchers see fibromyalgia as different from CWP, and that fibromyalgia is “one extreme on a spectrum of polysymptomatic distress that includes CWP.” To reach their findings, the team conducted a systematic review and meta-analysis of adult cross-sectional and cohort studies published since 1990 on the prevalence of CWP. They based their findings on cross-sectional studies that used the American College of Rheumatology’s CWP criteria.

The results, published in the January 2016 issue of the journal, include the finding that there is a higher prevalence of CWP in women and people over 40. But consistent results were not always available. For instance, two Israeli studies produced divergent CWP rates of 10.2 and 5.1%.

“Whether any differences in the experience of CWP are attributable to lifestyle, genetics, or sociocultural influences are unclear,” the authors wrote.

They concluded that “further research should investigate the extent and nature of ethnic, cultural, and regional variation in CWP prevalence, as this may offer insights into the etiology or management of this condition.”