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The influence of socioeconomic status on the reporting of regional and widespread musculoskeletal pain: results from the 1958 British Birth Cohort Study
  1. G J Macfarlane1,
  2. G Norrie1,
  3. K Atherton2,
  4. C Power2,
  5. G T Jones1
  1. 1
    Aberdeen Pain Research Collaboration (Epidemiology Group), University of Aberdeen, Aberdeen, UK
  2. 2
    MRC Centre for Child Health/Centre for Paediatric Epidemiology and Biostatistics, UCL Institute of Child Health, London, UK
  1. Correspondence to Professor G J Macfarlane, Epidemiology Group, Institute of Applied Health Sciences, University of Aberdeen, Polwarth Building, Foresterhill, Aberdeen AB25 2ZD, UK; g.j.macfarlane{at}


Objective: This study aims to determine to what extent the reporting of pain in adulthood varies by adult socioeconomic status, whether there are additional long-term effects of socioeconomic status in childhood and whether any such relationships are mediated through adult psychological ill health.

Methods: A prospective cohort study (the 1958 British Birth Cohort Study) was conducted. Participants were recruited, at birth, in 1958 and were followed-up throughout childhood and adulthood, most recently at 45 years when information was collected on regional and widespread pain, and various potential mediating factors.

Results: The prevalence of shoulder, forearm, low back, knee and chronic widespread pain at 45 years generally increased with lower adult social class. Persons in the lowest social class (compared to the highest) experienced nearly a threefold increase in the risk of chronic widespread pain: relative risk: 2.9 (95% CI 1.8 to 4.6). The strength of association varied between 1.5 and 2.0 for regional pains. Childhood social class also demonstrated a relationship with most regional pains and chronic widespread pain. With the exception of forearm pain, the magnitude of effect of childhood social status on reporting of pain in adulthood was less than that of adult social status. On multivariable analysis these relationships were partly explained by poor adult mental health, psychological distress, adverse life events and lifestyle factors.

Conclusions: These results emphasise the importance and potential impact of measures to reduce social adversity, which will have the effect of improving musculoskeletal health in adult life and other major causes of morbidity.

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  • Funding The 45-year follow-up was funded by the Medical Research Council (Grant no. 0000934) awarded under the Health of the Public Initiative. The GOSH/UCL Institute of Child Health receives a proportion of funding from the Department of Health’s NIHR Biomedical Research Centres funding scheme.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Ethics approval Ethics approval for the current follow-up was obtained by South-East England MREC (ref 01/1/44).

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