An Evaluation of Sex Differences in Patients With Chronic Pain Undergoing an Interdisciplinary Pain Treatment Program

Pain Pract. 2020 Jan;20(1):62-74. doi: 10.1111/papr.12827. Epub 2019 Aug 28.


Objectives: To determine if there are sex differences in a sample of patients participating in a 4-week interdisciplinary pain treatment program in (1) pretreatment pain intensity, physical function, psychological function, pain beliefs, kinesiophobia, pain catastrophizing, and activity management patterns; and (2) treatment response.

Methods: Seventy-two men and 130 women with chronic pain completed study measures. Analyses of covariance (ANCOVAs) were performed to compare men and women on pretreatment measures. Repeated-measures ANCOVAs were used to compare both sexes on 3 treatment outcomes (pain intensity, physical function, and depressive symptoms).

Results: Before treatment, compared to women, men reported higher levels of kinesiophobia, were more likely to view their pain as being harmful, and used more activity pacing when doing daily activities. Women were more likely to use an overdoing activity pattern than men. No sex differences emerged for pretreatment pain intensity, physical function, psychological function, catastrophizing, activity avoidance, or measures of other pain-related beliefs. At posttreatment, women reported more improvements in pain intensity and physical function compared to men, while both sexes reported similar reductions in depressive symptoms. All effect sizes for statistically significant findings were of small to moderate magnitude.

Discussion: The results of this study suggest that men and women have a comparable profile with respect to the overall burden of chronic pain. Nevertheless, sex differences were found for certain pain beliefs and coping styles. Women appear to reap more benefits from the interdisciplinary pain management program than men. These findings indicate that further research to develop sex-specific assessment procedures and tailored pain treatments may be warranted.

Keywords: activities of daily living; chronic pain; coping skills; pain centers; psychological factors; sex differences.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Catastrophization / psychology
  • Chronic Pain / psychology*
  • Chronic Pain / therapy
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Pain Management / methods
  • Pain Management / psychology*
  • Sex Characteristics*
  • Treatment Outcome