Objectives: In comparison with men, women have a healthier lifestyle, are more rarely overweight, have less stressful occupations, or are not employed outside the home. The "gender pain bias" is the fact that women nevertheless have a higher prevalence of back pain. This paper looks at the possible underlying reasons for this as yet unexplained gender difference, using Stokols' socioecological health model as a basis.
Methods: The first National Health Survey for the Federal Republic of Germany was carried out from October 1997 to March 1999. It comprised a representative total sample of 5315 persons between the ages of 20 and 64. The participants took part in a medical examination and answered a self-report form. chi test and logistic regression analyses were used to investigate correlations between self-reported low back pain and gender-specific biopsychobehavioral and sociophysical environmental factors.
Results: Seven-day back pain prevalence in the Federal Republic of Germany is 32% for men and 40% for women. Prevalences are significantly higher for overweight subjects, persons with a marked somatization tendency or a low level of social support, physically inactive individuals, smokers, elderly subjects, the nonemployed, "blue collar workers" and lower socioeconomic groups. From a multivariate perspective, however, none of these factors reduces (and hence sufficiently explains) the gender difference. Factoring in the gender-specific somatization tendency reduces the odds ratios of women versus men from 1.42 to 1.23.
Discussion: In view of the gender difference in pain prevalence, which remains stable despite a multivariate perspective, there is clearly a need for more research into the reasons underlying the gender difference. We believe that future studies should look at rarely investigated constructs such as "sex role expectancies," "anxiety," "ethnicity," and "family history" and take anatomic differences in muscle strength into account.