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Open Access Research article

Prevalence of chronic musculoskeletal disorders in elderly Brazilians: a systematic review of the literature

Vivian S Miranda1, Vivielle BF deCarvalho1, Luciana AC Machado2* and João Marcos D Dias1

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Physiotherapy, Federal University of Minas Gerais, Avenida Presidente Antônio Carlos 6627 Pampulha, Belo Horizonte, MG 31.270-901, Brazil

2 Faculty of Medicine, Federal University of Minas Gerais, Avenida Alfredo Balena 190, Santa Efigênia, Belo Horizonte, MG 30.190-100, Brazil

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BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders 2012, 13:82  doi:10.1186/1471-2474-13-82

Published: 29 May 2012



Population ageing is a worldwide phenomenon that has recently challenged public healthcare systems. The knowledge of the burden of chronic musculoskeletal disorders in elders is still limited, particularly in the developing world. This systematic review aimed to investigate the prevalence of chronic musculoskeletal disorders in elderly Brazilians.


A comprehensive literature search was performed in five electronic databases (from inception to January 2012) and completed by additional searches in reference lists. Two review authors independently selected the eligible studies and extracted data on participants’ characteristics and rates of chronic musculoskeletal disorders. One review author extracted methodological quality data. We performed a critical synthesis of the results, which were grouped into the diagnoses “chronic musculoskeletal pain” or “specific musculoskeletal diagnoses”.


Twenty five studies reporting on a total of 116,091 elderly Brazilians were included. Eight studies (32%) were of high methodological quality. There was a large variation in the measure of prevalence used by individual studies and in their definition of chronic pain. Prevalence estimates reached 86% for chronic musculoskeletal pain in any location. Studies investigating multiple pain sites found the lower limb and the spine to be the most prevalent complaints (50% each). Arthritis and rheumatism (including osteoarthritis) were the most prevalent specific musculoskeletal diagnoses (9% to 40%), followed by herniated disc (6% to 27%).


Despite the growth of the elderly population worldwide, high-quality research on the burden of chronic musculoskeletal disorders in the elderly is still scarce. Future healthcare research focusing on this age group should be a priority in developing countries since their public healthcare systems are not yet fully prepared to accommodate the needs of an aging population.

Prevalence; Epidemiology; Chronic pain; Musculoskeletal disorders; Elderly