Background: Physical inactivity is associated with several diseases, but studies evaluating the association between chronic musculoskeletal complaints (MSCs) and physical exercise have shown conflicting results. The aim of this large-scale prospective population-based study was to investigate the association between self-reported physical exercise at baseline and the prevalence of chronic musculoskeletal complaints (MSCs) 11 years later.
Methods: The results are based upon two consecutive public health studies conducted within the county of Nord-Trøndelag, Norway (The HUNT studies). A total of 39,520 (83%) out of 47,556 adults who participated in HUNT 1 and HUNT 2 responded to questions about physical exercise at baseline in 1984-86, and to questions about musculoskeletal complaints 11 years later (1995-97). Chronic MSCs was defined as MSCs >or= 3 months during the past year, and chronic widespread MSCs such as pain >or= 15 days during the last month from the axial region, above the waist, and below the waist. Associations were assessed using multiple logistic regression, estimating prevalence odds ratio (OR) with 95% confidence intervals (CIs). All the final analyses were adjusted for age, gender, body mass index, smoking and education level.
Results: At follow-up 20,223 (51%) reported chronic MSCs, and among these 2,318 (5.9%) reported chronic widespread MSCs. Individuals who exercised at baseline were less likely to report chronic MSCs 11 years later (OR 0.91, 95% CI 0.85-0.97) than inactive persons. Among individuals who exercised more than three times per week, chronic widespread MSCs were 28% less common (OR 0.72, 95% CI 0.59-0.88) compared to inactive individuals.
Conclusion: In this large-scale population-based study, physical exercise was associated with lower prevalence of chronic MSCs, in particular chronic widespread MSCs. Future studies should try to clarify whether chronic MSCs are a cause or a consequence of inactivity.