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The SF-36 is a well-validated health status instrument measuring eight different health concepts. One aim of this study was to compare health status as measured by SF-36 in subjects from the general population with no chronic pain (NCP), chronic regional pain (CRP), and chronic widespread pain (CWP). A second aim was to assess if SF-36 could reflect changes in pain status over time. A third aim was to study if health status at baseline, measured by SF-36, could predict pain status 3 years later. The study was designed as a 3-year follow up with a postal questionnaire, including the SF-36 health survey, to 2357 subjects from the general population aged 20–74 years. The results were controlled for age, sex, co-morbidity, and socio-economic status. At baseline, all eight health concepts of SF-36 discriminated between subgroups with NCP, CRP and CWP. Changes in SF-36 over the 3-year follow up time coincided with improvement or deterioration of pain status. Baseline SF-36 scores predicted pain outcome 3 years later. These results support that both physical and mental aspects of health status as measured by SF-36 are affected by the burden of musculoskeletal pain, are sensitive to changes in pain status, and also predict the further development of pain.