Chronic Musculoskeletal Pain and Foot Reaction Time in Older Adults

Yurun Cai*, Suzanne G. Leveille, Jeffrey M. Hausdorff, Jonathan F. Bean, Brad Manor, Robert R. McLean, Tongjian You

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This cross-sectional study examines the association between chronic musculoskeletal pain and foot reaction time (RT) among older community-living adults. Participants were 307 adults aged 71 years and older in the MOBILIZE Boston Study II. Pain severity, interference, and location were measured by the Brief Pain Inventory and a joint pain questionnaire. With participants seated, simple foot reaction time was measured as self-selected foot response time to an intermittent light, and choice foot reaction time was measured as response time to the light on the corresponding side of the sensored gait mat. We performed multivariable linear regression to determine associations of pain and foot RT, adjusted for sociodemographic and health characteristics, and serially adjusted for cognitive function (MMSE or Trail Making A). Pain severity and interference were associated with slower simple foot reaction time (P <.05). Pain severity and knee pain were associated with slower choice foot reaction time (P <.05). Adjustment for cognitive measures had little impact on the pain-RT relationship. This significant relationship was only observed among participants with less education. These results support the idea that chronic pain may lead to slower foot RT, thus could represent a fall hazard in older adults. Neuromotor mechanisms underlying the pain-fall relationship warrant further investigation. Perspective: This study provides insights on the mechanisms underlying the pain-fall relationship. Chronic pain may contribute to slower foot RT thus increase fall risk in older adults. This may help inform interventions such as stepping training to reduce fall risk in older adults living with chronic pain.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)76-85
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Pain
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2021


FundersFunder number
National Institutes of Health01AG041525
National Institute on AgingP01AG004390


    • Chronic pain
    • cognition
    • epidemiology
    • falls
    • mobility


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