Physical and Psychosocial Health in Older Women with Chronic Pain: Comparing Clusters of Clinical and Nonclinical Samples


  • Tamera A. Hart-Johnson MS,

    1. Departments of Anesthesiology, and
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  • Carmen R. Green MD

    Corresponding author
    1. Departments of Anesthesiology, and
    2. Obstetrics and Gynecology, University of Michigan Medical School
    3. Department of Health Management and Policy, University of Michigan School of Public Health, Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA
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Carmen R. Green, MD, Professor, Department of Anesthesiology, 1H247 University Hospital, 1500 E. Medical Center Drive SPC 5048, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI 48109-5048, USA. Tel: 734-936-4240; Fax: 734-936-9091; E-mail:


Background.  This investigation examined why some elderly women with severe pain symptoms and impairment in health status were not seen in a tertiary care pain center.

Methods.  Three groups of older (≥60 years) women were included in the study: women seeking chronic pain treatment at a multidisciplinary pain center (N = 49), and research volunteers from the same institution with (N = 28) and without (N = 27) chronic pain. A clustering classification technique was used to identify clusters of older women with similar physical and mental health status.

Results.  We found three clusters: 1) a healthy cluster (cluster 1: mostly nonclinical women); 2) a cluster with very poor physical and mental health status (cluster 3); and 3) a cluster with low physical health but average mental health (cluster 2). Although only cluster 1 had significantly higher physical health (P < 0.001), all three clusters had different mental health (P < 0.001). Within cluster 2, clinical women had more pain than nonclinical women, but within cluster 3, this was not so, indicating that mental health issues may create an obstacle to women having their pain appropriately assessed and treated.

Conclusions.  Our findings support that while disability and pain severity contribute to specialized pain services usage among older women, there is a subgroup of people not receiving pain care for whom these pain symptoms are similar. Further studies are needed to assess the role of health-seeking behavior, coping preferences, referral patterns, and patient–physician communication on access to tertiary pain care for older women.