What are the similarities and differences between healthy people with and without pain?

Jennifer N. Baldwin*, Marnee J. McKay, Joshua Burns, Claire E. Hiller, Elizabeth J. Nightingale, Niamh Moloney

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


    Background and aims: Knowledge of pain characteristics among the healthy population or among people with minimal pain-related disability could hold important insights to inform clinical practice and research. This study investigated pain prevalence among healthy individuals and compared psychosocial and physical characteristics between adults with and without pain.

    Methods: Data were from 1,000 self-reported healthy participants aged 3-101 years (1,000 Norms Project). Single-item questions assessed recent bodily pain ("none" to "very severe") and chronic pain (pain every day for 3 months in the previous 6 months). Assessment of Quality of Life (AQoL) instrument, New Generalised Self-Efficacy Scale, International Physical Activity Questionnaire, 6-min walk test, 30-s chair stand and timed up-and-down stairs tests were compared between adults with and without pain.

    Results: Seventy-two percent of adults and 49% of children had experienced recent pain, although most rated their pain as mild (80% and 87%, respectively). Adults with recent pain were more likely to be overweight/obese and report sleep difficulties, and had lower self-efficacy, AQoL mental super dimension scores and sit-to-stand performance, compared to adults with no pain (p <0.05). Effect sizes were modest (Cohen's d = 0.16-0.39), therefore unlikely clinically significant. Chronic pain was reported by 15% of adults and 3% of children. Adults with chronic pain were older, more likely to be overweight/obese, and had lower AQoL mental super dimension scores, 6-min walk, sit-to-stand and stair-climbing performance (p <0.05). Again, effect sizes were modest (Cohen's d = 0.25-0.40).

    Conclusions: Mild pain is common among healthy individuals. Adults who consider themselves healthy but experience pain (recent/chronic) display slightly lower mental health and physical performance, although these differences are unlikely clinically significant. 

    Implications: These findings emphasise the importance of assessing pain-related disability in addition to prevalence when considering the disease burden of pain. Early assessment of broader health and lifestyle risk factors in clinical practice is emphasised. Avenues for future research include examination of whether lower mental health and physical performance represent risk factors for future pain and whether physical activity levels, sleep and self-efficacy are protective against chronic pain-related disability

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)39-47
    Number of pages9
    JournalScandinavian Journal of Pain
    Issue number1
    Publication statusPublished - 23 Feb 2018


    • activities of daily living
    • health
    • pain
    • pain assessment


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