In addition, having pain in one month made falling in the next month likely. People who reported severe pain in one month had a 77 percent increased risk of falling the next month. Even people reporting very mild pain were more likely to fall the following month, the group found.
The authors noted that the neuromuscular effects of pain could cause leg muscle weakness or slow neuromuscular responses to a loss of balance. Attempts to ease pain by changing gait may also cause balance problems, and chronic pain may be a huge distraction, making people less aware of hazards, according to the report.
Pain tends to be thought of as part of growing old, Leveille said. "People tend to be dismissive of it, but this study shows that it may not be such a minor thing. There could be some very serious hazards related to chronic pain," she noted.
Colin Milner, chief executive officer of the International Council on Active Aging, welcomed the findings. "This study shows us the importance of recognizing that pain typically has a cost associated with it, as it may be a symptom of a greater issue that, in this case, if left unattended can have serious consequences."
Health professionals, fitness and wellness professionals now have another tool in creating fall reduction programs, Milner said. "Now, if they have not before, they may have a better understanding of how pain impacts many systems in the body and how these can impact falls," he said.
"If we look at the population as a whole, the number of people with pain is significant," Milner added. "This study shows that addressing this pain early is not only preventative in nature, but cost-effective, as the long-term costs associated with falls is significant."
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