Does Psychosocial Stress Cause Musculoskeletal Pain Disorders?

musculoskeletal pain

An interdisciplinary study explores the potential role of psychosocial stress as a cause of the development of chronic musculoskeletal pain disorders.

Musculoskeletal pain disorders refer to pain originating in the musculoskeletal system including muscles, ligaments, tendons, and joints. These disorders are a major global cause of disability, increasing disability rates by 45% over the years. Research has determined that psychological and psychosocial factors have a significantly negative impact on the onset of musculoskeletal disorders. In particular, back pain has been found to worsen due to emotional distress and maladaptive cognition.

Psychosocial stress, resulting in emotional tension and commonly caused by work stress or adverse life experiences, has been closely related to musculoskeletal disorders as well. Studies have demonstrated correlations between work-related psychosocial stress and musculoskeletal disorders. An Australian study protocol published in Biomed Central describes a meta-analysis that will determine if psychosocial stress is one of the causes of the development of chronic musculoskeletal pain disorders.

The researchers will measure the effect of exposure to psychosocial stress on the development of chronic musculoskeletal disorders. The meta-analysis will consider studies involving participants who are over 18 years of age. All studies included will consist of individuals experiencing musculoskeletal pain for at least three months, without any prior musculoskeletal disorders. The systematic review will analyze studies that determined psychosocial stress at the baseline. Disagreements on data will be resolved by a third independent reviewer.

As the systematic review and meta-analysis are currently underway, the researchers hypothesize that the results will introduce a cause-and-effect correlation between non-work related psychosocial stress and the development of chronic musculoskeletal disorders. The research will encourage medical professionals and psychologists to develop an interdisciplinary solution to musculoskeletal pain, involving mitigation of psychosocial stress and its adverse effects.

Although the study aims to explore a potentially valuable correlation, the method, which involves searching specific keywords in various databases, may produce a publication bias and leave out other important information on the topic. The limited previous research available on the topic may also be an obstacle in terms of producing accurate data and analyses.

To date, this review will be the first to systematically explore all the available evidence on the role of psychosocial stress for the development of chronic musculoskeletal disorders. The results will be valuable for healthcare practitioners treating those with chronic pain conditions.

Written by Shrishti Ahuja, HBSc

Reference: Buscemi, V., Chang, W., Liston, M. B., Mcauley, J. H., & Schabrun, S. (2017). The role of psychosocial stress in the development of chronic musculoskeletal pain disorders: protocol for a systematic review and meta-analysis. Systematic Reviews, 6(1). doi:10.1186/s13643-017-0618-0