'I am afraid to make the damage worse'--fear of engaging in physical activity among patients with neck or back pain--a gender perspective

Scand J Caring Sci. 2014 Mar;28(1):146-54. doi: 10.1111/scs.12043. Epub 2013 Apr 12.


Rationale: Neck and back pain are major public health problems in Western societies and cause considerable disability and health service use. Swedish women report more severe neck and back pain compared with Swedish men. Most studies on the aetiology of gender differences in pain deal with biological mechanisms, and less with the role of psychological and sociocultural factors. 'Pain beliefs' is a sociocultural factor and can be expressed in different ways among women and men. It is important to know what pain beliefs are held by neck and back pain patients, especially when medical guidelines recommend that back pain patients stay physically active.

Aim: Exploring pain beliefs in relation to physical activity among neck and back pain patients consulting primary health care.

Method: Twelve patients (seven women, five men) consulting primary health care for an initial episode of neck or back pain were interviewed before their first appointment with a physiotherapist or general practitioner and 3 months later. The interviews covered patient experiences of neck or back pain, consequences, strategies and treatment experiences. The interviews were analysed with qualitative content analysis from a gender perspective.

Result: One theme 'Fear of hurting the fragile body' was expressed by all neck or back pain patients. Five categories were identified 'The mechanical body', 'Messages about activity', 'Earlier experiences of pain and activity', 'To be a good citizen' and 'Support to be active' supported or undermined beliefs about pain and physical activity. Gender expressions occurred in the categories 'Messages about activity', 'To be a good citizen' and 'Support to be active'.

Conclusions: Neck or back pain patients in the study saw the body as fragile and were afraid of hurting it. Notions of gender had an impact on the given advice about activity and on how patients perceived the message about staying active.

Keywords: back pain; gender; neck pain; pain beliefs; physical activity; primary care; qualitative research.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Back Pain / physiopathology
  • Back Pain / psychology*
  • Fear*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Motor Activity*
  • Neck Pain / physiopathology
  • Neck Pain / psychology*
  • Sex Factors*