Treating chronic musculoskeletal pain (CMP) should become a public health priority, according to researchers from Teesside University. In addition to being a stressful experience in itself, CMP can contribute to cardiovascular disease, especially in the case of elderly people.
Assisted by colleagues from Northern Ireland and America, the Teesside University team studied more than 5,300 people aged 45 and above. Their research established that CMP was a contributing factor in the development of cardiovascular disease and the link was especially pronounced among patients aged 65 or above, among whom 47% suffering from CMP were also found to have cardiovascular disease. In comparison, the proportion stood at 28% for those free of CMP. Although not as high, the risk was also elevated for middle-aged patients: 23% of CMP sufferers aged 45 to 65 had heart problems compared to 14% among those without CMP.
Dr Cormac Ryan, the leader of the research team, explained the connection between CMP and cardiovascular disease, starting with the observation that pain inhibited movement. As a result, people slide into a sedentary lifestyle, which is known to increase the risk of heart disease. In addition, CMP has been linked to heightened inflammation activity and this could increase the risk of developing atherosclerosis – the medical terms for hardening or narrowing of the arteries. Lower physical activity can also lead to obesity and that is another factor contributing to heart problems. Last but not least, the functional and socioeconomic consequences associated with CMP result in a stressful experience for the people affected and stress significantly raises the risk of cardiovascular disease, Ryan said.