Background: The clinical syndrome of joint pain and stiffness in older people is the commonest cause of disability and health care consultation in this age group. Yet there have been few prospective studies of its course over time and its impact on personal and social life. We plan a cohort study in the general population aged 50 years and over to determine the course and prognosis of hand, hip, knee and foot pain, and the impact of these syndromes on participation levels and health care use.
Methods: All patients aged 50 years and over registered with 3 local general practices are to be recruited to a population-based cohort study through the use of a two-stage mailing process. Participants will initially complete a "Health Survey" questionnaire. This will collect information on several areas of life including socio-demographics, general health, physical function, participation, and bodily pain. Those who state that they have experienced any hand problem or any pain in their hands, hips, knees, or feet in the previous 12 months, and also give permission to be re-contacted, will be mailed a "Regional Pains Survey" questionnaire which collects detailed information on the four selected body regions (hand, hips, knees, feet). Follow-up data for the three-year period subsequent to cohort recruitment will be collected through two sources: i) general practice medical records and ii) repeat mailed survey.