Associations of back and leg pain with health status and functional capacity of older adults: findings from the retirement community back pain study

Arthritis Rheum. 2008 Sep 15;59(9):1306-13. doi: 10.1002/art.24006.


Objective: Low back pain (LBP) is the most frequently reported musculoskeletal problem in older adults, but its impact on health status is not well understood. Our objective was to determine whether LBP and concurrent leg pain are associated with health-related quality of life (HRQOL) and function in a cohort of older adults, and to examine care-seeking behaviors related to LBP.

Methods: This was a population-based, cross-sectional survey study of 522 community-dwelling men and women (67.4%) ages >or=62 living in 4 retirement communities in Maryland and northern Virginia. LBP status in the past year was categorized as no pain in the low back or leg, LBP only, and LBP with leg pain. HRQOL and function were measured with the Medical Outcomes Study Short Form 36 (SF-36).

Results: A total of 26.8% of the sample reported LBP only and 21.3% reported LBP plus leg pain. Participants with LBP and LBP plus leg pain had lower scores in all SF-36 domains, reflecting worse HRQOL (P < 0.0001). LBP and LBP plus leg pain were associated with 2-fold greater odds of falling and increased difficulty lifting grocery bags, walking several blocks, and bathing. LBP plus leg pain was associated with difficulty in social interactions (odds ratio 10.63, 95% confidence interval 3.57-31.60). Less than half sought care for LBP and those who did had poorer health status and greater pain burden.

Conclusion: LBP is common among older adults and strongly associated with reduced HRQOL and function. These findings argue strongly for both identifying cases of LBP by health care practitioners and pursuing effective treatments for LBP given the potential consequences.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Intramural

MeSH terms

  • Activities of Daily Living
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Female
  • Health Status Indicators
  • Humans
  • Low Back Pain / complications*
  • Low Back Pain / epidemiology
  • Low Back Pain / physiopathology*
  • Male
  • Maryland / epidemiology
  • Middle Aged
  • Pain Measurement
  • Patient Acceptance of Health Care
  • Quality of Life
  • Retirement*
  • Sciatica / complications*
  • Sciatica / epidemiology
  • Sciatica / physiopathology*
  • Virginia / epidemiology