Living With Pain Could Increase Risk of Chronic Disease

Musculoskeletal conditions are a major source of disability worldwide.  In fact, when looking at years lived with disease (YLDs), neck and back pain along with osteoarthritis (OA) of the hip and/or knee make up over 13% of YLDs worldwide.  In 2015, neck and back pain ranked #1 among all causes for YLDs globally.

But, did you know, patients with musculoskeletal diagnoses are approximately twice as likely to have chronic disease in another body system (cardiac, endocrine, neurologic, gastric, etc).  There are several theories as to why this may be the case.

  • Inflammation that accompanies OA may increase risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes and cancer.
  • Musculoskeletal conditions cause pain that often limits physical activity, contributing to weight gain and/or poor cardiovascular health, which can lead to additional conditions.
  • Some pain management methods have side effects which increase mortality.  (For example, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs can increase risk of cardiovascular events.)

Theories such as these indicate that untreated musculoskeletal conditions may be linked to the development of additional serious conditions.

In a 2018 article published in BMC Medicine, researchers discuss their review of 13 studies, involving more than 3 million individuals in an effort to evaluate if a direct relationship could be found between the diagnosis of neck/back pain or OA of the hip/knee and the subsequent development of chronic disease.  There was enough data reported from 11 of the studies involving 2,686,113 individuals to perform a meta-analysis study.

A “statistically significant increased risk of chronic disease incidence from musculoskeletal conditions” was revealed.  Specifically:

o   8 studies evaluated the connection between OA and cardiovascular disease

o   1 study evaluated the connection between OA and diabetes

o   2 studies evaluated the connection between back pain and cardiovascular disease and cancer

o   1 study evaluated the connection between neck pain and cancer

o   All musculoskeletal conditions combined and their connection with cardiovascular disease

In every case listed above, there was a statistically significant increased risk of the chronic condition for patients with musculoskeletal diagnosis.  Overall, researchers observed a 17% increase in risk of developing a chronic disease.

While the majority of the studies looked at OA and cardiovascular disease, the few that looked at other musculoskeletal conditions and other chronic diseases also showed a strong increase in risk.  This review shows that there is a significant increased risk for those with a musculoskeletal condition diagnosis to develop cardiovascular disease and suggests that musculoskeletal conditions may be a factor to take into account when evaluating chronic disease prevention.

Additional research is needed to verify if these statistics are consistent across the spectrum of chronic diseases, as well as musculoskeletal diagnoses.  Greater research would further benefit the public to determine exactly how the musculoskeletal condition may lead to the seemingly unrelated chronic disease.

Researchers conclude: “prevention and early effective treatment of musculoskeletal conditions, such as OA, and back/neck pain, may play a role in preventing other chronic diseases.”  As research continues to reveal more as to the how and why, those currently diagnosed with a musculoskeletal condition who are seeking treatment to reduce inflammation and pain thereby maintaining the ability to be physically active and avoid weight gain and poor cardiovascular health may find that they are the exception.  Chiropractic care is a natural healthcare discipline that offers a variety of treatments, including spinal manipulation (commonly referred to as spinal adjustments) that have been proven effective for maintaining function and alleviating pain.

If you suffer from back/neck pain and/or OA, talk to your chiropractor about ways to not only relieve your pain, but also address risk factors you may have for other chronic conditions.  Seeking proper treatment early on may not only reduce your symptoms, but also provide prevention of potentially life-threatening chronic conditions.   You can find a TCA member doctor near your home, work or school at .



Williams, A et al. “Musculoskeletal conditions may increase the risk of chronic disease: a systematic review and meta-analysis of cohort studies” BMC medicine. vol. 16,1 167. September 25, 2018. doi:10.1186/s12916-018-1151-2