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J Rheumatol. 2009 Mar;36(3):583-91. doi: 10.3899/jrheum.080455. Epub 2009 Jan 22.

The natural history of disability and its determinants in adults with lower limb musculoskeletal pain.

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Department of Social Medicine, University of Bristol, Bristol BS8 2PR, UK.



To investigate determinants of deterioration or improvement in disability in people with chronic hip and knee pain.


We analyzed data from the Somerset and Avon Survey of Health, a longitudinal, community-based cohort study containing data collected in 1994-95 and again in 2002-03. The Medical Outcomes Study Short-Form 36 was completed by subjects at both timepoints, and used to categorize people as disabled or not. Baseline data were used to explore possible determinants of change in functional status over the 8-year time period. Adjusted odds ratios (OR) were derived from a multivariate, multinomial logistic model.


Data were available on 1072 subjects, all of whom reported chronic hip and/or knee pain at baseline. At baseline, 56.8% of women and 42.0% of men were disabled. Of 545 people with disabilities at baseline, 107 (19.6%) reported no disability at followup; of 527 with no disability at baseline, 177 (33.6%) became disabled. The development of disability was significantly associated with older age (OR 2.1), living in the most deprived areas (2.4), the presence of 3 or more comorbidities (3.6), more problems with physical function at baseline (2.0), and more severe pain (2.4). The determinants of improvement mirrored those of deterioration. The data suggest a "threshold effect" at which recovery becomes unlikely.


Of people presenting with hip or knee pain, healthcare professionals should be most concerned about those who are older, of lower socioeconomic status, with comorbidities, and who have more severe pain. Much longstanding disability might be preventable.

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