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Open Access Open Badges Research article

Discussing prognosis with older people with musculoskeletal pain: a cross-sectional study in general practice

Christian David Mallen* and George Peat

Author Affiliations

Arthritis Research Campaign National Primary Care Centre, Keele University, Keele, Staffordshire, ST5 5BG, UK

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BMC Family Practice 2009, 10:50  doi:10.1186/1471-2296-10-50

Published: 7 July 2009



Prognosis has been described as an important but neglected branch of clinical science. While patients' views have been sought in the context of life-threatening illness, similar research is lacking for patients presenting with common, non-life-threatening musculoskeletal complaints. The aim of this study was to gauge whether and why older patients with musculoskeletal pain think prognostic information is important, and how often they felt prognosis was discussed in the general practice consultation.


A cross-sectional survey of consecutive patients aged 50 years of over presenting with non-inflammatory musculoskeletal pain to 5 Central Cheshire general practices. The frequency of responses to the prognostic questions were described and the association with sociodemographic, presenting pain complaint, and psychosocial variables explored using logistic regression.


502 participants (77%) responded to the postal questionnaire. 165 (33%) participants reported discussing prognosis in the consultation with their GP. Discussions about prognosis were more often reported by male patients (OR 1.72, 95% CI 1.09, 2.71) and those for whom this was their first consultation (OR 1.81, 95% CI 1.16, 2.80). 402 (82%) participants thought that prognostic information was important. This was highest among those currently in paid employment (OR 2.95, 95% CI 1.33, 6.57). The reasons patients gave for believing prognostic information was important included 'knowing for the sake of knowing' and planning future activity. Reasons for not believing prognostic information to be important included the belief that progression of pain was inevitable and that nothing could be done to help.


Prognostic information is thought to be important amongst older people with musculoskeletal pain yet discussions occur infrequently in primary care. Barriers to effective prognostic communication and the exact information needs of patients are still unknown and warrant further research.