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Biological stress systems, adverse life events and the onset of chronic multisite musculoskeletal pain: a 6-year cohort study
  1. Ellen Generaal1,
  2. Nicole Vogelzangs1,
  3. Gary J Macfarlane2,
  4. Rinie Geenen3,
  5. Johannes H Smit1,
  6. Eco J C N de Geus4,
  7. Brenda W J H Penninx1,
  8. Joost Dekker1,5
  1. 1Department of Psychiatry and EMGO Institute for Health and Care Research, VU University Medical Center, Amsterdam, The Netherlands
  2. 2Musculoskeletal Research Collaboration (Epidemiology Group), University of Aberdeen, Aberdeen, UK
  3. 3Department of Clinical and Health Psychology, Utrecht University, Utrecht, The Netherlands
  4. 4Department of Biological Psychology and EMGO Institute for Health and Care Research, VU University Medical Center, Amsterdam, The Netherlands
  5. 5Department of Rehabilitation Medicine, VU University Medical Center, Amsterdam, The Netherlands
  1. Correspondence to Ellen Generaal, Department of Psychiatry and EMGO Institute for Health and Care Research, VU University Medical Center, A.J. Ernststraat 1187, room M1.14, Amsterdam 1081 HL, The Netherlands; e.generaal{at}ggzingeest.nl

Abstract

Objectives Dysregulated biological stress systems and adverse life events, independently and in interaction, have been hypothesised to initiate chronic pain. We examine whether (1) function of biological stress systems, (2) adverse life events, and (3) their combination predict the onset of chronic multisite musculoskeletal pain.

Methods Subjects (n=2039) of the Netherlands Study of Depression and Anxiety, free from chronic multisite musculoskeletal pain at baseline, were identified using the Chronic Pain Grade Questionnaire and followed up for the onset of chronic multisite musculoskeletal pain over 6 years. Baseline assessment of biological stress systems comprised function of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis (1-h cortisol awakening response, evening levels, postdexamethasone levels), the immune system (basal and lipopolysaccharide-stimulated inflammation) and the autonomic nervous system (heart rate, pre-ejection period, SD of the normal-to-normal interval, respiratory sinus arrhythmia). The number of recent adverse life events was assessed at baseline using the List of Threatening Events Questionnaire.

Results Hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis, immune system and autonomic nervous system functioning was not associated with onset of chronic multisite musculoskeletal pain, either by itself or in interaction with adverse life events. Adverse life events did predict onset of chronic multisite musculoskeletal pain (HR per event=1.14, 95% CI 1.04 to 1.24, p=0.005).

Conclusions This longitudinal study could not confirm that dysregulated biological stress systems increase the risk of developing chronic multisite musculoskeletal pain. Adverse life events were a risk factor for the onset of chronic multisite musculoskeletal pain, suggesting that psychosocial factors play a role in triggering the development of this condition.

  • Fibromyalgis/Pain Syndromes
  • Epidemiology
  • Inflammation
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