The course of chronic pain in the community: results of a 4-year follow-up study

Alison Margaret Elliott, Blair Hamilton Smith, Philip Christopher Hannaford, William Cairns Stewart Smith, W. A. Chambers

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287 Citations (Scopus)


Little is known about the course of chronic pain in the community. Such information is needed for the prevention and management of chronic pain. We undertook a 4-year follow-up study of 2184 individuals living in Grampian, UK to describe patterns and predictors of change in chronic pain over time. In October 2000, participants completed a postal questionnaire including case definition questions, the chronic pain grade questionnaire, the SF-36 and socio-demographic questions. Information from this questionnaire was compared to information collected from a similar questionnaire in 1996. A response rate of 83% was achieved for the follow-up study. The overall prevalence of chronic pain (pain or discomfort present either all the time or on and off for 3 months or longer) increased from 45.5% at baseline to 53.8% at follow-up. Seventy-nine percent of those with chronic pain at baseline still had it at follow-up. The average annual incidence was 8.3% and the average annual recovery rate was 5.4%. Individuals in the study samples who are in lowest quartile of SF-36 domains - physical functioning, social functioning and bodily pain at baseline - were more likely to develop chronic pain at follow-up, and respondents who were retired were less likely to develop chronic pain. Individuals in the study samples in the lowest quartile of SF-36 domains, bodily pain and general health at baseline, were less likely to recover from their chronic pain, as were those aged 45-74 compared with those aged 25-34. We concluded that chronic pain is a common, persistent problem in the community with relatively high incidence and low recovery rates. The lack of association between onset or recovery from chronic pain and most traditional socio-demographic factors, highlights the need to broaden the range of factors included in studies of chronic pain aetiology. (C) 2002 International Association for the Study of Pain. Published by Elsevier Science B.V. All rights reserved.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)299-307
Number of pages8
Issue number1-2
Early online date5 Jun 2002
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2002


  • chronic pain
  • epidemiology
  • natural history
  • incidence
  • pain severity
  • low-back-pain
  • reported muscoloskeletal pain
  • health survey questionnaire
  • chronic widespread pain
  • general-population
  • primary-care
  • nutrition examination
  • depressive symptoms
  • persistent pain
  • natural-history


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