Open Access Open Badges Review

Neural and psychosocial contributions to sex differences in knee osteoarthritic pain

Kathleen A Sluka12*, Karen J Berkley1, Mary I O’Connor1, Daniel P Nicolella1, Roger M Enoka1, Barbara D Boyan1, David A Hart1, Eileen Resnick1, C Kent Kwoh1, Laura L Tosi1, Richard D Coutts1 and Wendy M Kohrt1

Author Affiliations

1 Isis Research Network on Musculoskeletal Health, Iowa City, USA

2 Physical Therapy and Rehabilitation Science, 1–252 Medical Education Building, University of Iowa, 52242-1190, Iowa City, IA, USA

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Biology of Sex Differences 2012, 3:26  doi:10.1186/2042-6410-3-26

Published: 17 December 2012


People with osteoarthritis (OA) can have significant pain that interferes with function and quality of life. Women with knee OA have greater pain and greater reductions in function and quality of life than men. In many cases, OA pain is directly related to sensitization and activation of nociceptors in the injured joint and correlates with the degree of joint effusion and synovial thickening. In some patients, however, the pain does not match the degree of injury and continues after removal of the nociceptors with a total joint replacement. Growth of new nociceptors, activation of nociceptors in the subchondral bone exposed after cartilage degradation, and nociceptors innervating synovium sensitized by inflammatory mediators could all augment the peripheral input to the central nervous system and result in pain. Enhanced central excitability and reduced central inhibition could lead to prolonged and enhanced pain that does not directly match the degree of injury. Psychosocial variables can influence pain and contribute to pain variability. This review explores the neural and psychosocial factors that contribute to knee OA pain with an emphasis on differences between the sexes and gaps in knowledge.

Osteoarthritis; Pain; Sex differences; Gender; Nociceptor; Central sensitization; Psychosocial; Catastrophizing