Background: A large proportion of people living with hip or knee pain do not consult health care professionals. Pain severity is often believed to be the main reason for help seeking in this population; however the evidence for this is contradictory. This study explores the importance of several potential risk factors on help seeking across different practitioner groups, among adults living with chronic hip or knee pain in a large community sample.
Methods: Health care utilization, defined as having seen a family doctor (GP) during the past 12 months; or an allied health professional (AHP) or alternative therapist during the past 3 months, was assessed in a community based sample aged 35 or over and reporting pain in hip or knee. Adjusted odds ratios were determined for social deprivation, rurality, pain severity, mobility, anxiety/depression, co-morbidities, and body mass index.
Results: Of 1119 persons reporting hip or knee pain, 52% had pain in both sites. Twenty-five percent of them had seen a doctor only, 3% an AHP only, and 4% an alternative therapist only. Thirteen percent had seen more than one category of health care professionals, and 55% had not seen any health care professional. In the multivariate model, factors associated with consulting a GP were mobility problems (OR 2.62 (1.64-4.17)), urban living (OR 2.40 (1.14-5.04) and pain severity (1.28 (1.13-1.44)). There was also some evidence that obesity was associated with increased consultation (OR 1.72 (1.00-2.93)). Factors were similar for consultation with a combination of several health care professionals. In contrast, seeing an alternative therapist was negatively associated with pain severity, anxiety and mobility problems (adjusting for age and sex).
Conclusion: Disability appears to be a more important determinant of help-seeking than pain severity or anxiety and depression, for adults with chronic pain in hip or knee. The determinants of seeking help from alternative practitioners are different from determinants of consulting GPs, AHPs or a combination of different health care providers.