Prevalence of musculoskeletal disorders is systematically higher in women than in men

Clin J Pain. 2006 Oct;22(8):717-24. doi: 10.1097/01.ajp.0000210912.95664.53.


Objectives: Many studies report a higher prevalence of musculoskeletal pain in women than in men. This paper presents an overview of sex differences in musculoskeletal pain with specific attention for: different parameters for duration of musculoskeletal pain (ie, 1-y period prevalence, point prevalence, prevalence of chronic pain, and prevalence of persistent chronic pain); and (2) different anatomic pain sites.

Methods: For the analyses, data from 2 general population-based prospective surveys (Dutch population-based Musculoskeletal Complaints and Consequences Cohort study and Monitoring Project on Risk Factors for Chronic Diseases-study) were used. The study population consisted of persons aged 25 to 64 years living in the Netherlands. Data on self-reported pain complaints were assessed by written questionnaires.

Results: The results of this study showed that prevalence rates of musculoskeletal pain were higher for women than for men in the Dutch general population aged 25 to 64 years on the basis of 2 population-based surveys. For musculoskeletal pain in any location, 39% of men and 45% of women reported chronic complaints. Highest female predominance was found for the hip and wrist/hand, whereas lowest and not statistically significant sex differences were found for the lower back and knee. All duration parameters of musculoskeletal pain showed a female predominance of musculoskeletal pain (1-y period prevalence, point prevalence, prevalence of chronic pain, and prevalence of persistent chronic pain). In those with persistent chronic pain, women tended to report higher severity scores.

Discussion: The present study shows that women have higher prevalence rates of musculoskeletal pain in most anatomic pain sites, no matter the duration of musculoskeletal pain. Future research should focus on explaining these sex differences with the ultimate goal to develop better prevention and management strategies for musculoskeletal pain in both men and women.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Comorbidity
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Musculoskeletal Diseases / epidemiology*
  • Netherlands / epidemiology
  • Pain / epidemiology*
  • Prevalence
  • Risk Assessment / methods*
  • Risk Factors
  • Sex Distribution
  • Sex Factors