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N Z Med J. 2005 Aug 26;118(1221):U1629.

Musculoskeletal pain in the adult New Zealand population: prevalence and impact.

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Rehabilitation Teaching and Research Unit, Wellington School of Medicine and Health Sciences, University of Otago, Wellington, New Zealand.



A pilot study to determine the response rate and feasibility of a postal survey to measure the population frequency of site-specific musculoskeletal (MSK) pain and associated health related quality of life (HRQOL).


540 adults on the general electoral registers of the lower part of the North Island of New Zealand were stratified for age and Maori ethnicity, then randomly selected. The sample was mailed a survey instrument modelled on a similar UK survey, but also including validated self-report instruments measuring HRQOL (EuroQol), physical disability (modified Health Assessment Questionnaire), psychological distress (General Health Questionnaire) and self-efficacy. Presence of MSK pain was defined as pain present for at least 7 days over the previous month. Subjects received a reminder postcard, telephone call, and repeat mail survey before being declared a non-respondent.


There was an overall response rate of 61% of the eligible sample, but this was lower in Maori and in people aged less than 40 years. The prevalence of MSK pain ranged from 40.0% (women aged less than 40 years) to 66.7% (women aged older than 65 years). Back and shoulder were the sites most commonly affected. EuroQol scores were significantly worse for people with MSK pain (median 0.77 [no pain] to 0.41 [pain at 7 sites]), even when adjusted for psychological distress.


MSK pain is common, disabling, and associated with impaired HRQOL scores that are comparable with complicated diabetes mellitus, chronic liver disease prior to liver transplantation, and terminal cancer. The New Zealand Health Strategy should now be revised to reflect the importance of MSK disorders in the New Zealand adult population.

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