Disaggregating pain and its effect on physical functional limitations

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Background. Pain is a common impairment that limits the abilities of older persons. The purposes of this article are to: (i) describe the distribution of pain location using the McGill Pain Map (MPM) in a community- based cohort of aged subjects; (ii) investigate whether individual areas of pain could be sensibly grouped into regions of pain; (iii) determine whether intensity, frequency, and location constitute independent dimensions of pain; and (iv) determine whether these three pain dimensions make differential contributions to the presence of self-reported physical functional limitations. Methods. A total of 833 Mexican American and European American subjects, aged 65-79 years, were enrolled in the San Antonio Longitudinal Study of Aging and were interviewed in their homes between 1992 and 1996. A total of 373 (46%) of the subjects reported having pain in the past week. Physical functional limitations were ascertained using the nine items from the Nagi scale. Three composite scales were created: Upper extremity, lower extremity, and total. Pain intensity and frequency were ascertained using the McGill Pain Questionnaire. Pain location was ascertained by using the MPM. Results. Pain was reported in every area of the MPM. Using multiple groups confirmatory factor analysis, the 36 areas were grouped into 7 regions of pain: head, arms, hands and wrists, trunk, back, upper leg, and lower leg. Among persons with pain, pain frequency, intensity, and location were weakly associated with each other. Pain regions were primarily independent of each other, yet weak associations existed between 6 of the 21 pair-wise correlations between regions. Pain regions were differentially associated with individual physical functional limitations. Pain in the upper leg was associated with 8 of the 9 physical tasks. In multivariate analyses, age, gender, and ethnic group accounted for only 2-3% of the variance in physical functional limitations. Pain in tensity accounted for 5-6% of the variance in the composite scores of functional limitation. Pain frequency accounted for 4-5% of the variance in upper extremity limitations but did not contribute to the modeling of lower extremity limitations. In contrast, pain location accounted for 9-14% of the variance in physical functional limitations. Conclusions. We tested a method for ascertaining pain location and clearly demonstrated that pain location is an important determinant of self-reported physical functional limitations. The MPM methodology may be used in population-based studies or in clinical samples that focus on specific impairments and seek to control for pain frequency and intensity. Future studies can link specific diseases with the common impairment of pain and tease out the pathways that lead to other impairments (e.g., weakness), functional limitations, and disability.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)M361-M371
JournalJournals of Gerontology - Series A Biological Sciences and Medical Sciences
Issue number5
StatePublished - 1998

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Aging
  • Geriatrics and Gerontology


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