Conceptions of pain among Somali women

J Adv Nurs. 2006 May;54(4):418-25. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2648.2006.03838.x.


Aim: This paper reports a study of a group of Somali mothers' views on pain, the causes of pain, pain behaviour and pain treatment concerning themselves and their family members.

Background: Both the meaning of pain and pain behaviour are associated with values in a patient's social and cultural context. Culture also provides models for how to treat and relieve pain. Several studies report a lack of cultural sensitivity and competence among healthcare professionals, resulting in lower quality of and less access to health care and pain treatment for minority groups. However, the majority of the scientific literature on pain and culture concerns adults in the United States of America.

Method: Focused conversational interviews were carried out with a convenience sample of nine Somalia women living in Sweden in order to describe and explore their conceptions of pain. Qualitative content analysis was conducted through meaning condensation. The data were collected in 2002-2003.

Findings: The women expressed a number of different ideas about definitions and causes of pain. Somalis, especially men, are expected to be stoic about pain. The women had different strategies for communicating about and relieving pain. Children from the ages of 6-8 years upwards were expected to control their pain expression. Respondents used both formal and informal care to relieve pain. For some of the women, consulting a psychologist was not a culturally acceptable way of seeking pain relief.

Conclusions: Nurses must strive for increased cultural competence and explore ways to make healthcare services sensitive to culturally diverse groups. Nurses have an educational role in educating parents and children about pain and the importance of sufficient pain relief. All healthcare providers should be aware of their own cultural values and the risk of stereotyping people.

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological
  • Adult
  • Analgesics / therapeutic use
  • Attitude to Health
  • Child
  • Circumcision, Female / psychology
  • Communication
  • Culture
  • Emotions
  • Female
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice
  • Home Nursing / methods
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mothers / psychology*
  • Pain / etiology
  • Pain / psychology*
  • Pain Management
  • Patient Acceptance of Health Care / psychology
  • Sex Factors
  • Somalia / ethnology
  • Sweden / epidemiology
  • Terminology as Topic


  • Analgesics