Information on the prevalence of pain in the general population has relevance for the allocation of health services and for understanding of chronic pain. In 1986 a sample of 1498 adults were interviewed using the Diagnostic Interview Schedule. Questions on pain were taken from the somatisation section of the interview schedule. These responses were used to determine the lifetime prevalence of pain in the urban population of New Zealand. The majority of subjects reported more than one life disrupting experience of pain. Pain was most common in the joints, back, head and abdomen. Women reported more pain than men. In general the prevalence of pain increased with age, however this was not true for headaches and abdominal pain. Most subjects related their pain symptoms to a physical cause.