The use of self-report questions to examine the prevalence of musculoskeletal problems: A test-retest study

Tiffany Gill, Graeme Tucker, Jodie Avery, Ernst Shanahan, Hylton Menz, Anne Taylor, Robert Adams, Catherine Hill

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    Background: Case definition has long been an issue for comparability of results obtained for musculoskeletal pain prevalence, however the test-retest reliability of questions used to determine joint pain prevalence has not been examined. The objective of this study was to determine question reliability and the impact of question wording, ordering and the time between questions on responses. Methods: A Computer Assisted Telephone Interviewing (CATI) survey was used to re-administer questions collected as part of a population-based longitudinal cohort study. On two different occasions questions were asked of the same sample of 203 community dwelling respondents (which were initially randomly selected) aged 18 years and over at two time points 14 to 27 days apart (average 15 days). Reliability of the questions was assessed using Cohen's kappa (κ) and intraclass correlation coefficient (ICC) and whether question wording and period effects existed was assessed using a crossover design. Results: The self-reported prevalence of doctor diagnosed arthritis demonstrated excellent reliability (κ = 0.84 and κ = 0.79 for questionnaires 1 and 2 respectively). The reliability of questions relating to musculoskeletal pain and/or stiffness ranged from moderate to excellent for both types of questions, that is, those related to ever having joint pain on most days for at least a month (κ = 0.52 to κ = 0.95) and having pain and/or stiffness on most days for the last month (κ = 0.52 to κ = 0.90). However there was an effect of question wording on the results obtained for hand, foot and back pain and/or stiffness indicating that the area of pain may influence prevalence estimates. Conclusions: Joint pain and stiffness questions are reliable and can be used to determine prevalence. However, question wording and pain area may impact on estimates with issues such as pain perception and effect on activities playing a possible role in the recall of musculoskeletal pain.

    Original languageEnglish
    Article number100
    Pages (from-to)1-10
    Number of pages10
    JournalBMC Musculoskeletal Disorders
    Issue number1
    Publication statusPublished - 24 Feb 2016

    Bibliographical note

    Open Access. This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made. The Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication waiver ( applies to the data made available in this article, unless otherwise stated.


    • Joint pain
    • Musculoskeletal pain
    • Prevalence
    • Reliability
    • Test retest


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