Localized or widespread musculoskeletal pain: does it matter?

Pain. 2008 Aug 15;138(1):41-46. doi: 10.1016/j.pain.2007.11.002. Epub 2008 Feb 20.


Although epidemiological descriptions indicate that musculoskeletal pain is often widespread, still a lot of musculoskeletal pain is diagnosed and treated as localized pain. This led us to question whether localized pain exists at all and to evaluate its functional impact compared with that of widespread musculoskeletal pain. Therefore, this study aimed to describe the prevalence of localized and widespread musculoskeletal pain and its association to functional ability. In 2004, questionnaires about musculoskeletal pain were mailed to seven age groups in Ullensaker, Norway: 24-26, 34-36, 44-46, 54-56, 64-66, 74-76, and 84-86 years old. In total, 3325 persons participated (participation rate 54.4%). We excluded the oldest age group and persons who did not respond to any questions about pain during the previous week, thus reducing the participants in this study to 3179. Although musculoskeletal pain occurred frequently in the population, localized pain, in the meaning of single site pain, was relatively rare. Most people having musculoskeletal pain reported pain from a number of sites. Furthermore, experiencing single site pain did not have a large impact on physical fitness, feelings, or daily and social activities. Functional problems increased markedly, in an almost linear way with increasing number of pain sites. These findings suggest that musculoskeletal pain usually coexists with pain in other body regions and that the functional consequences are highly dependent on how widespread the pain is. This should have important implications for future research into musculoskeletal pain, and for clinical and social insurance medicine.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Age Distribution
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Musculoskeletal Diseases / diagnosis*
  • Musculoskeletal Diseases / epidemiology*
  • Norway / epidemiology
  • Pain / classification
  • Pain / diagnosis*
  • Pain / epidemiology*
  • Pain Measurement / statistics & numerical data*
  • Prevalence
  • Risk Assessment / methods*
  • Risk Factors