Background and aims Few studies have reported the long-term impact of chronic pain on health care utilization. The primary aim of this study was to investigate if chronic musculoskeletal pain was associated with health care utilization in the general population in a 21-year follow-up of a longitudinal cohort. The secondary aim was to identify and describe factors that characterize different long-term trajectories of health care utilization. Methods A prospective cohort design with a baseline sample of 2,425 subjects (aged 20-74). Data were collected by self-reported questionnaires, and three time points (1995, 2007, and 2016) were included in the present 21-year follow up study. Data on health care utilization were dichotomized at each time point to either high or low health care utilization. High utilization was defined as >5 consultations with at least one health care provider, or ≥1 consultation with at least 3 different health care providers during the last 12 months. Low health care utilization was defined as ≤5 consultations with one health care provider and <3 consultations with different health care providers. The associations between baseline variables and health care utilization in 2016 were analyzed by multiple logistic regression. Five different trajectories for health care utilization were identified by visual analysis, whereof four of clinical relevance were included in the analyses. Results Baseline predictors for high health care utilization at the 21-year follow-up in 2016 were chronic widespread pain (OR: 3.2, CI: 1.9-5.1), chronic regional pain (OR:1.8, CI: 1.2-2.6), female gender (OR: 2.0, CI: 1.4-3.0), and high age (OR: 1.6, CI:0.9-2.9). A stable high health care utilization trajectory group was characterized by high levels of health care utilization, and a high prevalence of chronic pain at baseline and female gender (n = 23). A stable low health care utilization trajectory group (n = 744) was characterized by low health care utilization, and low prevalence of chronic pain at baseline. The two remaining trajectories were: increasing trajectory group (n = 108), characterized by increasing health care utilization, chronic pain at baseline and female gender, and decreasing trajectory group (n = 107) characterized by decreasing health care utilization despite a stable high prevalence of chronic pain over time. Conclusions The results suggest that chronic pain is related to long-term health care utilization in the general population. Stable high health care utilization was identified among a group characterized by female gender and a report of chronic widespread pain. Implications This cohort study revealed that chronic widespread pain predicted high health care utilization over a 21-year follow-up period. The results indicate the importance of early identification of musculoskeletal pain to improve the management of pain in the long run.