People with chronic musculoskeletal pain retire earlier

Frequent musculoskeletal pain is linked with an increased risk of exiting work and retiring earlier, according to a new study published in the journal PLOS ONE.

Chronic musculoskeletal pain, such as lower back pain, is a leading cause of disability worldwide. Up to 43% of people with chronic pain cannot work, while remaining at work despite chronic pain is linked to absenteeism and loss of productivity.

“This disproportionately affects older adults, who are closer to retirement, while the exact relationship between pain and work cessation as well as retirement among older adults is not known,” write the paper’s authors, from the University of Portsmouth and the University of Aberdeen.

In their new study, the researchers analysed data on 1,156 individuals aged 50 years and older living in England who were followed for 14 years while taking part in the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing.

They found that people with more musculoskeletal pain complaints tended to retire earlier compared to pain-free participants and were 1.25 times more likely to cease work sooner, whether or not they described themselves as retired. 

“It is remarkable that pain predicts earlier retirement and work cessation to a similar extent or even more strongly than other variables, such as job satisfaction or specific job demands. It shows just how much impact pain can have on all aspects of people’s lives,” the authors say.

They add that further research should establish the mechanisms and decision making involved in leaving the workforce in people with frequent musculoskeletal pain.

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