Association between musculoskeletal pain with social isolation and loneliness: analysis of the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing

Toby O Smith (Corresponding Author), Jack R Dainty, Esther Williamson, Kathryn R Martin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

63 Citations (Scopus)


Introduction: Musculoskeletal pain is a prevalent health challenge for all age groups worldwide, but most notably in older adults. Social isolation is the consequence of a decrease in social network size with a reduction in the number of social contacts. Loneliness is the psychological embodiment of social isolation and represents an individual's perception of dissatisfaction in the quality or quantity of their social contacts. This study aims to determine whether a relationship exists between musculoskeletal pain and social isolation and loneliness.

Methods: A cross-sectional analysis of the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing (ELSA) cohort was undertaken. ELSA is a nationally representative sample of the non-institutionalised population of individuals aged 50 years and over based in England. Data were gathered on social isolation through the ELSA Social Isolation Index, loneliness through the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) Loneliness Scale and musculoskeletal pain. Data for covariates included physical activity, depression score, socioeconomic status, access to transport and demographic characteristics. Logistic regression analyses were undertaken to determine the relationship between social isolation and loneliness with pain and the additional covariates.

Results: A total of 9299 participants were included in the analysis. This included 4125 (44.4%) males, with a mean age of 65.8 years. There was a significant association where social isolation was lower for those in pain (odd ratio (OR): 0.87; 95% confidence intervals (CI): 0.75 to 0.99), whereas the converse occurred for loneliness where this was higher for those in pain (OR: 1.15; 95% CI: 1.01 to 1.31). Age, occupation, physical activity and depression were all associated with increased social isolation and loneliness.

Conclusion: People who experience chronic musculoskeletal pain are at greater risk of being lonely, but at less risk of being socially isolated. Health professionals should consider the wider implications of musculoskeletal pain on individuals, to reduce the risk of negative health implications associated with loneliness from impacting on individual's health and well-being.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)82-90
Number of pages9
JournalBritish Journal of Pain
Issue number2
Early online date20 Sept 2018
Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2019

Bibliographical note

The English Longitudinal Study of Ageing (ELSA) was developed by researchers based at University Colleague London, the Institute of Fiscal Studies and the National Centre for Social Research. We can confirm that the following authors have made substantial contributions to the following: conception and design: T.O.S., J.R.D., E.W. and K.R.M. Acquisition of data: T.O.S. and J.R.D. Analysis and interpretation of data: T.O.S., J.R.D., E.W. and K.R.M. Drafting the article: T.O.S., J.R.D., E.W. and K.R.M. Revising it critically for important intellectual content: T.O.S., J.R.D., E.W. and K.R.M. Final approval of the version to be published: T.O.S., J.R.D., E.W. and K.R.M.


  • pain
  • elderly
  • community
  • Lonely
  • Isolated
  • Health outcomes
  • health outcomes
  • Pain
  • isolated
  • lonely


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