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Self-Reported Abuse History and Pain Complaints among Young Adults

Fillingim, Roger B. Ph.D.; Wilkinson, Chris S. M.A.; Powell, Tykeysha

Article

Objective: Considerable evidence suggests that a self-reported history of physical and/or sexual abuse is more frequently reported among chronic pain populations and is associated with poorer adjustment to pain. However, previous research has typically included patients seeking treatment for pain, whereas few population-based studies have explored the association between abuse history and pain. This purpose of this study was to examine the association between self-reported history of sexual or physical abuse and recent pain complaints, health-related variables, and psychological disturbance among a nonclinical sample of young adults.

Design: Subjects were 426 (275 female, 151 male) college students who completed a series of questionnaires assessing abuse history, recent pain, health care utilization, perceived health, and psychological variables.

Results: Females reported a positive history of abuse (PHA) more frequently than males (43.5% vs. 23.8%), and females reported significantly higher rates for all types of abuse except physical abuse during childhood (p < 0.05). PHA subjects reported experiencing pain in more sites and pain of higher severity over the past month compared to subjects with a negative history of abuse (NHA) (p < 0.05). PHA subjects also reported more health care utilization and greater psychological disturbance, including depression, somatization, negative temperament, and higher levels of catastrophizing (p < 0.05). Interestingly, when somatization and depression scale scores were used as covariates, group differences in pain complaints and health care utilization became nonsignificant (p > 0.10).

Conclusion: These findings suggest that a self-reported history of physical or sexual abuse is associated with increased pain complaints, health care utilization, and psychological disturbance even among young adults from a nonclinical population. Moreover, the association between abuse and pain complaints appears to be moderated at least in part by the higher levels of somatization and depression observed in the PHA group.

Department of Psychology, University of Alabama at Birmingham, Birmingham, Alabama, U.S.A.

Manuscript received October 9, 1998; first revision received February 17, 1999; accepted for publication February 24, 1999.

Address correspondence and reprint requests to Roger B. Fillingim, Ph.D., University of Alabama at Birmingham, Department of Psychology, 1300 University Boulevard, Birmingham, AL 35294-1170, U.S.A.

© 1999 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.