Sex moderates the effects of positive and negative affect on clinical pain in patients with knee osteoarthritis

Traci J. Speed, Jessica M. Richards, Patrick H. Finan, Michael T. Smith

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


Background and aims Sex differences in clinical pain severity and response to experimental pain are commonly reported, with women generally showing greater vulnerability. Affect, including state (a single rating) and stable (average daily ratings over two weeks) positive affect and negative affect has also been found to impact pain sensitivity and severity, and research suggests that affect may modulate pain differentially as a function of sex. The current study aimed to examine sex as a moderator of the relationships between affect and pain-related outcomes among participants with knee osteoarthritis (KOA). Methods One hundred and seventy-nine participants (59 men) with KOA completed electronic diaries assessing clinical pain, positive affect, and negative affect. A subset of participants (n = 120) underwent quantitative sensory testing, from which a single index of central sensitization to pain was derived. We used multiple regression models to test for the interactive effects of sex and affect (positive versus negative and stable versus state) on pain-related outcomes. We used mixed effects models to test for the moderating effects of sex on the relationships between state affect and pain over time. Results Sex differences in affect and pain were identified, with men reporting significantly higher stable positive affect and lower central sensitization to pain indexed by quantitative sensory testing, as well as marginally lower KOA-specific clinical pain compared to women. Moreover, there was an interaction between stable positive affect and sex on KOA-specific clinical pain and average daily non-specific pain ratings. Post hoc analyses revealed that men showed trends towards an inverse relationship between stable positive affect and pain outcomes, while women showed no relationship between positive affect and pain. There was also a significant interaction between sex and stable negative affect and sex on KOA-specific pain such that men showed a significantly stronger positive relationship between stable negative affect and KOA-specific pain than women. Sex did not interact with state affect on pain outcomes. Conclusions Findings suggest that men may be particularly sensitive to the effects of stable positive affect and negative affect on clinical pain. Future work with larger samples is needed in order to identify potential mechanisms driving the sex-specific effects of affect on pain. Implications The current study provides novel data that suggesting that the association of positive affect, negative affect, and pain are different in men versus women with KOA. Further understanding of the difference in affective expression between men and women may lead to the development of novel therapeutic interventions and help to identify additional modifiable factors in the prevention and management of pain.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)66-73
Number of pages8
JournalScandinavian Journal of Pain
StatePublished - Jul 1 2017


  • Knee osteoarthritis
  • Pain
  • Quantitative sensory testing
  • Sex

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Neurology
  • Anesthesiology and Pain Medicine


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