Laboratory pain research has been criticized as being irrelevant to the clinical experience of pain. Previous findings have been inconsistent with some studies suggesting that experimental pain responses may be related to the reported presence or severity of chronic pain, while others report no such associations. However, few of these studies assess a variety of laboratory pain responses, and none has assessed relationships between clinical pain and diffuse noxious inhibitory controls (DNIC) in healthy subjects. We administered questionnaire measures of pain, quality of life, and psychological variables to a sample of healthy adults participating in a laboratory study of age differences in pain responses. DNIC was not related to other laboratory pain responses, psychological variables, or physiological variables measured in the present study. Regression models predicting health-related quality of life (e.g. pain, physical functioning) revealed that age, sex, and DNIC responses explained between 10 and 25% of the variance in these dependent measures. Of the laboratory pain variables, only DNIC was the sole consistent predictor of clinical pain and physical health, with greater DNIC responses related to less pain, better physical functioning, and better self-rated health. In addition, age differences in DNIC appeared to partially mediate age differences in physical functioning. These findings highlight the potential clinical relevance of experimental pain procedures and suggest that DNIC may be the laboratory pain response most closely associated with clinical pain and health-related variables. © 2003 International Association for the Study of Pain. Published by Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.