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A longitudinal study explored the relationship between musculoskeletal (MSK) pain, such as chronic low back pain, and the risk of earlier retirement among older workers in England. The analysis drew on data from the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing (ELSA) spanning 14 years from 2004 to 2018.

In their final analysis, the authors demonstrated that chronic MSK pain was “significantly associated with the risk of earlier retirement and of work cessation” in older workers. The connection remained a significant predictor of earlier retirement even after controlling for factors like job satisfaction, depressive symptoms, self-perceived social status, sex and working conditions.

Notably, the study found that older workers with frequent MSK pain had a 30% higher risk of retiring earlier compared to those without MSK pain. Similarly, those with chronic MSK pain were 25% more likely to leave the workforce at an earlier age.

Other factors contributing to earlier workforce exit included being female, lower job satisfaction and a lack of perceived recognition at work. Interestingly, higher self-perceived social status was also associated with earlier retirement and work cessation, with the authors suggesting that those who feel more financially secure may choose to exit the workforce earlier.

Setting this study apart from previous studies is its specific focus on the effects of chronic pain on employment status for older populations, which is important because the prevalence of people living with musculoskeletal pain increases with age.  

While the reasons behind an early workforce exit for those with chronic MSK pain were not explicitly explored, the authors suggested that it could stem from an inability to continue working due to pain, concerns about future health decline, and a perception of lowered productivity or contribution.

The authors concluded, “It is remarkable that pain predicts earlier retirement and work cessation to a similar extent or even more strongly than other variables, such as job satisfaction or specific job demands. It shows just how much impact pain can have on all aspects of people’s lives.”