New Study Suggests Fractures Can Lead to Chronic Widespread Bodily Pain
Compensation. Everybody knows what it is. If you bust a toe on your right foot, your left leg is sore within days from taking on the extra weight. To relieve the soreness in your leg and avoid placing stress on your broken toe, you take to the couch. What happens then? Your back goes. And then your neck. Soon you’re gaining weight from all the sitting…
Hopefully the above is a hyperbolic example, but it illustrates the point that everything in our body is connected to everything else, and a small pain here can lead to a larger pain there.
What has not been well understood is how pain becomes chronic. Why, when everything seems to be healed and back in alignment, does pain persist? In a new study, researchers wanted to devise a simple test that could help understand not exactly why chronic pain happens, but under what conditions does chronic pain happen?1
They decided to look at people who had had a relatively simple and common experience: bone fractures. They then looked at these folks’ health data 5 years after their fracture to find out if they had developed chronic pain.
The Bones of the Chronic Pain
The new study suggests evidence of a link between bone fractures in specific places in our bodies to later widespread chronic pain. In other words, if you fracture your tibia, say, there is a greater chance that later on you’ll gather more aches and pains in areas than those who haven’t experienced fractures, and those aches and pain aren’t even necessarily centered at the site of the fracture. Does this guarantee that the fracture and the later chronic pain are related? Not necessarily, but it seems quite likely…
The Break in the Case on Chronic Pain
What the researchers found was an increased risk of chronic widespread bodily pain among patients who had a previous fracture at any anatomical site. They also adjusted their statistics for age, sex, BMI (Body Mass Index), and ethnicity. The results still showed a significant association between chronic widespread bodily pain and fracture at all of the sites. They then adjusted for lifestyle and psychological factors, and the results still showed strong statistically significant associations between chronic widespread bodily pain and fracture: particularly with women who experienced past spine and hip fractures, and men with spine fractures.
The Study’s Author
Nicholas C. Harvey, lead researcher for the study and professor of rheumatology and clinical epidemiology, stated in a press release the significance of this study: “The causes of chronic widespread pain are poorly characterized, and this study is the first to demonstrate an association with past fracture. If confirmed in further studies, these findings might help us to reduce the burden of chronic pain following such fractures.”2
The study focused on fractures occurring at the spine, hip, upper limb or lower limb, with the injury sustained five years prior to the subjects’ chronic widespread bodily pain.
Dr. Harvey, in an additional statement, says, “Chronic widespread pain is common, and leads to substantial health related problems and disability. Past studies have demonstrated an increased risk of chronic widespread pain following traumatic events, but none have directly linked to skeletal fractures.”
Since the study is itself the first of its kind, according to Dr. Harvey, it would seem probable that additional studies linking these two seemingly disparate traumas will commence. And since chronic pain affects so many people, any medical information that may lead to causes are important. Make of the study what you will, but it seems pretty reasonable that while sustaining a fracture is not necessarily optional, treating it promptly and well is.
- Walker-Bone K, et al. Chronic Widespread Bodily Pain Is Increased among Individuals with History of Fracture: Findings from UK Biobank. Archives of Osteoporosis 11, no. 1: December 17, 2015. doi:10.1007/s11657-015-0252-1.
- Walker-Bone K, et al. Fracture history associated with chronic widespread bodily pain. Fracture history associated with chronic widespread bodily pain. Arch Osteoporos. 2016;doi:10.1007/s11657-015-0252-1.