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Br J Gen Pract. 2007 Aug;57(541):655-61.

Prognostic factors for musculoskeletal pain in primary care: a systematic review.

Author information

  • 1Primary Care Musculoskeletal Research Centre, Keele University, Staffordshire. c.d.mallen@cphc.keele.ac.uk



Estimating the future course of musculoskeletal pain is an important consideration in the primary care consultation for patients and healthcare professionals. Studies of prognostic indicators tend to have been viewed in relation to each site separately, however, an alternative view is that some prognostic indicators may be common across different sites of musculoskeletal pain.


To identify generic prognostic indicators for patients with musculoskeletal pain in primary care.


Systematic review.


Observational cohort studies in primary care.


MEDLINE, EMBASE, PsychINFO and CINAHL electronic databases were searched from inception to April 2006. Inclusion criteria were that the study was a primary care-based cohort, published in English and contained information on prognostic indicators for musculoskeletal conditions.


Forty-five studies were included. Eleven factors, assessed at baseline, were found to be associated with poor outcome at follow up for at least two different regional pain complaints: higher pain severity at baseline, longer pain duration, multiple-site pain, previous pain episodes, anxiety and/or depression, higher somatic perceptions and/or distress, adverse coping strategies, low social support, older age, higher baseline disability, and greater movement restriction.


Despite substantial heterogeneity in the design and analysis of original studies, this review has identified potential generic prognostic indicators that may be useful when assessing any regional musculoskeletal pain complaint. However, Its unclear whether these indicators, used alone, or in combination, can correctly estimate the likely course of individual patients' problems. Further research is needed, particularly in peripheral joint pain and using assessment methods feasible for routine practice.

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  • Chronic musculoskeletal pain. [Br J Gen Pract. 2007]
[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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