Background: The Shoulder Pain and Disability Index (SPADI) is a self-administered questionnaire that aims to measure pain and disability associated with shoulder disease. The aim of the present study was to investigate the construct validity and factor structure of the SPADI in a population-based study of patients with self-reported chronic shoulder symptoms. Methods. The North West Adelaide Health Study is a representative longitudinal cohort study of people aged 18 years and over. The original sample was randomly selected and recruited by telephone interview. Overall, 3 206 participants returned to the clinic during the second stage (2004-2006) and were asked to report whether they had pain, aching or stiffness on most days in either of their shoulders. Data was also collected on body mass index and shoulder range of motion (ROM) and demographic factors. The SPADI (numeric rating scale) was administered to participants with shoulder symptoms. Principal components factor analysis, with varimax rotation of factor loadings, was used to assess subscale structure of SPADI. Correlations between the SPADI, shoulder ROM and SF-36 were performed. Results: Overall, 22.3% of participants indicated that they had pain, aching or stiffness in either of their shoulders. SPADI results were available for 588 of participants with current shoulder symptoms. The internal consistency of the SPADI subscales were high (Cronbach's alpha > 0.92). Two factors, explaining 61.4% of the total variance were extracted by factor analysis. These were interpreted as disability and pain respectively. There was a strong negative correlation between SPADI disability subscale scores and shoulder range of motion. SPADI disability, but not pain, subscale scores were correlated with age. Conclusions: The SPADI is a valid measure to assess pain and disability in people with shoulder pain in a population-based study. In this setting, the SPADI had a bidimensional structure with both pain and disability subscales.