Background: Chronic pain is the leading cause of disability in developed countries. Prevalence is linked with socio-economic position (SEP), but little is known about the influence of SEP on disabling pain over the life course. We have investigated the influence of different life course trajectories of SEP on disabling pain ('pain interference') in postal surveys of adults aged ≥50 years sampled from the general population of adults registered with three UK general practices.
Methods: Current pain interference was measured using the dichotomized 36-item Short-Form (SF-36) health survey. Three recalled SEP measures (age left school, longest job and current/most recent job) were dichotomized into low SEP (left school at or before minimum school leaving age; reported routine or manual occupations) and high SEP, from which eight life course SEP trajectories were constructed. Associations of (i) eight SEP trajectories and (ii) three individual SEP measures adjusted for each other, with pain interference, adjusted for potential confounders, were calculated using logistic regression.
Results: A total of 2533 individuals provided data on all three SEP measures. A consistently low life course SEP trajectory was significantly associated with current pain interference compared with a high trajectory [odds ratio (OR) = 2.76, 95% confidence interval (CI): 2.19-3.47], even after adjustment for age and gender. Further adjustment reduced the association but it remained significant (OR = 2.04; 95% CI: 1.55-2.68). In the model with individual measures, low age left school (OR = 1.45; 95% CI: 1.15-1.82) and manual longest job (OR = 1.47; 95% CI: 1.13-1.91) were independently associated with pain interference.
Conclusions: Our results highlight the potential for reducing chronic disabling pain in later life by addressing inequalities in both childhood education and adult occupational opportunities.