Pain-related musculoskeletal disorders, psychological comorbidity, and the relationship with physical and mental well-being in Gulf War veterans

Kelsall, H. L., McKenzie, D. P., Forbes, A. B., Roberts, M. H., Urquhart, D. M., & Sim, M. R. (2014). Pain-related musculoskeletal disorders, psychological comorbidity, and the relationship with physical and mental well-being in Gulf War veterans. PAIN®, 155, 685-692.

Abstract

Background: Occupational activities such as lifting loads, working in constrained spaces, and training increase the risk of pain-related musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) in military veterans. Few studies have investigated MSD and psychological disorder in veterans, and previous studies had limitations.

Method: This cross-sectional study compared pain-related MSD and psychological comorbidity and well-being between 1381 male Australian 1990-1991 Gulf War veterans (veterans) and a military comparison group (n = 1377, of whom 39.6% were serving and 32.7% had previously deployed). At a medical assessment, 2000-2002, reported doctor-diagnosed arthritis or rheumatism, back or neck problems, joint problems, and soft tissue disorders were rated by medical practitioners as nonmedical, unlikely, possible, or probable diagnoses. Only probable MSDs were analysed. Psychological disorders in the past 12 months were measured using the Composite International Diagnostic Interview. The Short-Form Health Survey (SF-12) assessed 4-week physical and mental well-being.

Results: Almost one-quarter of veterans (24.5%) and the comparison group (22.4%) reported an MSD. Having any or specific MSD was associated with depression and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), but not alcohol disorders. Physical and mental well-being was poorer in those with an MSD compared to those without, in both study groups (eg, veterans with any MSD, difference in SF-12 physical component summary scale medians = -10.49: 95% confidence interval -12.40, -8.57), and in those with MSD and psychological comorbidity compared with MSD alone. Comorbidity of any MSD and psychological disorder was more common in veterans, but MSDs were associated with depression, PTSD, and poorer well-being in both groups.

Conclusion: Psychological comorbidity needs consideration in MSD management. Longitudinal studies are needed to assess directionality and causality.

DOI/Australian-New Zealand Clinical Trials Registry

https://doi.org/10.1016/j.pain.2013.12.025
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