The Mediating and Moderating Effect of Volunteering on Pain and Depression, Life Purpose, Well-Being, and Physical Activity

Pain Manag Nurs. 2017 Aug;18(4):243-249. doi: 10.1016/j.pmn.2017.04.004. Epub 2017 Jun 7.


To improve function and quality of life in patients with chronic pain, a prevalent and costly condition, an understanding of the relationships among well-being, physical activity, depression, and life purpose with pain is needed. Because of the role loss experienced by people with chronic pain, activities such as volunteering could have an important role in improving health and well-being. In one study, chronic pain patients who participated in volunteer activities reported both decreased pain and "a sense of purpose." The aim of this study is to test the relationships among pain and well-being, physical activity, depression, and life purpose and then to determine if volunteering activities mediated or moderated these relationships. This observational study was conducted in a large university setting in Kentucky and used a sample of 200 women older than age 50. We found that people with higher pain were more depressed and had lower life purpose and well-being. People who volunteered less had more pain, lower perceived life purpose, more depressive symptoms, and decreased physical activity. Volunteer activities did have a significant mediating effect on the relationship between pain and depression; approximately 9% of the relationship between pain and depression can be accounted for by volunteering. Moderation by volunteering was found between pain and life purpose. We identified important relationships among pain, volunteering, and health outcomes and found that volunteering has a role in improving depressive symptoms and life purpose in women with pain.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Chronic Pain / psychology*
  • Chronic Pain / therapy
  • Depression / psychology
  • Depression / therapy
  • Exercise / psychology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Kentucky
  • Middle Aged
  • Quality of Life / psychology*
  • Volunteers / psychology*