Chronic pain affects over 100 million American adults and >40% of older adults age ?65, with estimated costs of >$500 billion to $1 trillion annually. Older adults are at increased risk of having multiple painful conditions and are living longer with the negative impacts of chronic pain. Chronic pain, regardless of anatomy or diagnosis involved (e.g., back pain, migraine), is the leading cause of disability worldwide. Limited insights into whether common mechanisms underlie all pain conditions, regardless of diagnosis, has contributed to inadequate pain management options, and in turn, to the opioid epidemic. Health care providers who treat one pain condition (e.g., joint pain) typically do not manage symptoms in other parts of the body (e.g., abdominal pain), and patients are often referred from one specialist to another. Studying commonalities of various chronic overlapping pain conditions (COPC) in community-based cohorts unselected for pain conditions can provide novel insights into causes and consequences of chronic pain as a disease itself. For example, neurophysiologic alterations in pain processing such as pain sensitization (assessing ascending pain pathways) and conditioned pain modulation (CPM) (assessing descending pain modulation) may be common mechanisms underlying all chronic pain. Such knowledge would spur development of novel pain management approaches for all types of pain regardless of anatomy or diagnosis involved. Despite the substantial public health burden of chronic pain, little is known about the epidemiology and evolution of COPC in older adults, nor of the impact of COPC on physical function, risk of nursing home admission, and mortality in older adults. We propose to evaluate chronic pain in the upcoming study visit of a thoroughly-characterized community-based older adult cohort unselected for any pain complaints, the Framingham Heart Study (FHS) (N~1874, mean age 76, 84% ?age 70).
We aim to understand the epidemiology of COPC, regardless of anatomy or diagnosis involved, the evolution of COPC over time, neurophysiologic alterations in pain processing as risk factors for COPC and its evolution, and consequences of COPC and altered pain processing in older adults. We propose acquiring objective quantitative sensory testing (QST) measures of pain sensitization and CPM, which are associated with pain severity and response to treatment in experimental settings of subjects selected for particular pain conditions. However, whether QST- assessed neurophysiologic alterations may be common underlying risk factors for all forms of chronic pain, and for functional limitations, institutionalization, and mortality in a community-based cohort of older adults unselected for pain is unknown. We will collect data regarding a multitude of chronic pain conditions, QST, self-report and performance-based physical function, and nursing home admissions during the next planned study visit, as well as two follow-up assessments to obtain longitudinal data, and leverage the ongoing FHS surveillance of mortality. Our work will address several knowledge gaps, and insights gained may ultimately facilitate new preventive and therapeutic approaches to relieving chronic pain and its consequences, regardless of underlying diagnosis.

Public Health Relevance

Chronic pain is a leading cause of disability in the US and globally, especially among older adults, yet management options are limited and fundamental knowledge regarding causes and consequences of chronic overlapping pain conditions is lacking. Our grant creates an innovative inter-disciplinary collaboration to study the chronic overlapping pain conditions in older adults and neurophysiologic alterations as an underlying risk factor, and their impact on physical function, ability to live independently, and mortality risk. The proposed work will bring new insights into chronic pain as a condition itself regardless of anatomic location of pain, with an aim to helping the millions of Americans suffering from chronic pain.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute on Aging (NIA)
Research Project (R01)
Project #
Application #
Study Section
Neurological, Aging and Musculoskeletal Epidemiology (NAME)
Program Officer
Eldadah, Basil A
Project Start
Project End
Budget Start
Budget End
Support Year
Fiscal Year
Total Cost
Indirect Cost
Boston University
Internal Medicine/Medicine
Schools of Medicine
United States
Zip Code