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Traffic accidents linked to increased risk of chronic widespread pain

Onset of chronic pain less likely with other traumatic event triggers

Individuals with poorer health or psychological issues may be prone to developing chronic widespread pain following a traumatic event. This new research, published today in Arthritis Care & Research, a peer-reviewed journal of the American College of Rheumatology (ACR), found that the onset of chronic pain was more often reported following a traffic accident than from other physically traumatic triggers.

The ACR defines chronic widespread pain as the presence of pain above and below the waist, or on both the left and right sides of the body, for three months or longer. Prior studies have reported chronic widespread pain prevalence rates between 11% and 13% in Germany, Sweden, the U.K. and the U.S. Medical literature suggests that this type of pain increases with age, is more common in women than men, and is a primary characteristic of fibromyalgia—one of the most common reasons for rheumatology consultations worldwide.

"We believe there are persons—defined by prior physical and psychological health—who in the event of a traumatic trigger are vulnerable to developing chronic widespread pain," explained Gareth Jones, PhD, of the University of Aberdeen School of Medicine and Dentistry, U.K., and lead author of the current study. "Under this hypothesis, the precise nature of the traumatic event may even be immaterial."

To examine the relationship between different physically traumatic events and the onset of chronic widespread pain, researchers followed 2069 participants from the Epidemiology of Functional Disorders (EPIFUND) study. Participants in the EPIFUND study, a population-based prospective cohort, provided data on musculoskeletal pain and associated psychological distress at three time points over a four-year period. Patients were also asked about their recent experience with six physically traumatic events—traffic accident, workplace injury, surgery, fracture, hospitalization and childbirth.

Of those who participated in the study through follow-up, 241 (12%) reported new onset of chronic widespread pain, with more than one-third of these subjects more likely to report at least one traumatic event during the study period than other individuals. After researchers adjusted for age, sex, general practice and baseline pain status, those who reported a traffic accident experienced an 84% increase in the likelihood of new onset chronic widespread pain. No association was observed with hospitalization, surgery or in women who gave birth. "Further research should focus on the unique aspects of an auto accident and the individual's reaction to this particular trauma that causes the increased risk of chronic widespread pain onset," concluded Dr. Jones.

This study is published in Arthritis Care & Research. Media wishing to receive a PDF of this article may contact

Full citation: Road Traffic Accidents, but Not other Physically Traumatic Events, Predict the Onset of Chronic Widespread Pain: Results from the EpiFunD Study." Gareth T. Jones, Barbara I. Nicholl, John McBeth, Kelly A. Davies, Richard K. Morriss, Chris Dickens and Gary J. Macfarlane. Arthritis Care and Research; Published Online: March 21, 2011 (DOI: 10.1002/acr.20417).

About the Journal

Arthritis Care & Research is an official journal of the American College of Rheumatology (ACR), and the Association of Rheumatology Health Professionals (ARHP), a division of the College. Arthritis Care & Research is a peer-reviewed research publication that publishes both original research and review articles that promote excellence in the clinical practice of rheumatology. Relevant to the care of individuals with arthritis and related disorders, major topics are evidence-based practice studies, clinical problems, practice guidelines, health care economics, health care policy, educational, social, and public health issues, and future trends in rheumatology practice.

About Wiley-Blackwell

Wiley-Blackwell is the international scientific, technical, medical, and scholarly publishing business of John Wiley & Sons, with strengths in every major academic and professional field and partnerships with many of the world's leading societies. Wiley-Blackwell publishes nearly 1,500 peer-reviewed journals and 1,500+ new books annually in print and online, as well as databases, major reference works and laboratory protocols. For more information, please visit or our new online platform, Wiley Online Library (, one of the world's most extensive multidisciplinary collections of online resources, covering life, health, social and physical sciences, and humanities.

Dawn Peters | EurekAlert!
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