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Prevalence and Impact of Pain in Adults Aging With a Physical Disability: Comparison to a US General Population Sample

Molton, Ivan PhD*; Cook, Karon F. PhD; Smith, Amanda E. BS*; Amtmann, Dagmar PhD*; Chen, Wen-Hung PhD; Jensen, Mark P. PhD*

doi: 10.1097/AJP.0b013e31829e9bca
Original Articles

Objectives: To describe rates of pain and pain interference in a large sample of adults aging with long-standing physical disabilities, relative to a normative US population sample.

Methods: Self-report survey data was collected for a sample of 1877 individuals with spinal cord injury, neuromuscular disease, postpolio syndrome, or multiple sclerosis. Rates of pain severity and pain interference in these samples were then compared with those taken from a large normative sample (>20,000) collected through the NIH Patient Reported Outcomes Measurement Information System (PROMIS).

Results: Individuals with long-standing physical disabilities reported higher levels of pain and pain interference across the lifespan as compared with individuals in the normative sample. In general, individuals with disability did not experience an age-related decrease in pain and pain impact in contrast to those in the normative sample. For 3 disability groups (neuromuscular disease, postpolio syndrome, and multiple sclerosis), pain interference remained elevated and significantly higher than national norms in the “postretirement” period (ie, age 65 to 74).

Discussion: Results from this study provide a large scale data on prevalence rates of pain and pain interference in this population. Findings underscore the prevalence and impact of pain in persons with disabilities and suggest that individuals with disability may not experience the same degree of decrease in pain interference in later life that is typical of the US population. Those aging with disability may be especially at risk for pain-related impairment in later life.

*Department of Rehabilitation Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine, Seattle, WA

Department of Medical Social Sciences, Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, Chicago, IL

Center for Health Outcomes Research, United BioSource Corporation, Bethesda MD

The authors declare no conflict of interest. Supported by the Department of Education, NIDRR grant number H133B080024. However, those contents do not necessarily represent the policy of the Department of Education, and you should not assume endorsement by the Federal Government.

Reprints: Ivan Molton, PhD, Department of Rehabilitation Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine, Box 356490, 1959 NE Pacific St, Seattle, WA 98195 (e-mail:

Received March 27, 2013

Accepted May 15, 2013

© 2014 by Lippincott Williams & Wilkins