Childhood victimization and pain in adulthood: A prospective investigation

Karen G. Raphael, Cathy Spatz Widom, Gudrun Lange

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Evidence of the relationship between childhood abuse and pain problems in adulthood has been based on cross-sectional studies using retrospective self-reports of childhood victimization. The objective of the current study was to determine whether childhood victimization increases risk for adult pain complaints, using prospective information from documented cases of child abuse and neglect. Using a prospective cohort design, cases of early childhood abuse or neglect documented between 1967 and 1971 (n=676) and demographically matched controls (n=520) were followed into young adulthood. The number of medically explained and unexplained pain complaints reported at follow-up (1989-1995) was examined. Assessed prospectively, physically and sexually abused and neglected individuals were not at risk for increased pain symptoms. The odds of reporting one or more unexplained pain symptoms was not associated with any childhood victimization or specific types (i.e. sexual abuse, physical abuse, or neglect). In contrast, the odds of one or more unexplained pain symptoms was significantly associated with retrospective self-reports of all specific types of childhood victimization. These findings indicate that the relationship between childhood victimization and pain symptoms in adulthood is more complex than previously thought. The common assumption that medically unexplained pain is of psychological origin should be questioned. Additional research conducting comprehensive physical examinations with victims of childhood abuse and neglect is recommended.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)283-293
Number of pages11
Issue number1-2
StatePublished - 2001


  • Adulthood-childhood correlation
  • Childhood trauma
  • Unexplained pain symptoms

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neurology
  • Clinical Neurology
  • Anesthesiology and Pain Medicine


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