Individual differences in pain: understanding the mosaic that makes pain personal

Pain. 2017 Apr;158 Suppl 1(Suppl 1):S11-S18. doi: 10.1097/j.pain.0000000000000775.


The experience of pain is characterized by tremendous inter-individual variability. Multiple biological and psychosocial variables contribute to these individual differences in pain, including demographic variables, genetic factors, and psychosocial processes. For example, sex, age and ethnic group differences in the prevalence of chronic pain conditions have been widely reported. Moreover, these demographic factors have been associated with responses to experimentally-induced pain. Similarly, both genetic and psychosocial factors contribute to clinical and experimental pain responses. Importantly, these different biopsychosocial influences interact with each other in complex ways to sculpt the experience of pain. Some genetic associations with pain have been found to vary across sex and ethnic group. Moreover, genetic factors also interact with psychosocial factors, including stress and pain catastrophizing, to influence pain. The individual and combined influences of these biological and psychosocial variables results in a unique mosaic of factors that contributes pain in each individual. Understanding these mosaics is critically important in order to provide optimal pain treatment, and future research to further elucidate the nature of these biopsychosocial interactions is needed in order to provide more informed and personalized pain care.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Age Factors
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Individuality*
  • Male
  • Pain* / epidemiology
  • Pain* / ethnology
  • Pain* / genetics
  • Pain* / psychology
  • Psychology
  • Sex Characteristics