General self-efficacy and social support in men and women with pain - irregular sex patterns of cross-sectional and longitudinal associations in a general population sample

BMC Musculoskelet Disord. 2022 Nov 29;23(1):1026. doi: 10.1186/s12891-022-05992-5.


Background: The study of sex and gender patterns in psychosocial resources is a growing field of interest in pain research with importance for pain rehabilitation and prevention. The aims of this study were first, to estimate cross-sectional differences in psychosocial resources (general self-efficacy and social support) across men and women in a population with frequent musculoskeletal pain (pain in the back or neck/shoulder nearly every day or now and again during the week for the last 12 months) and to compare these differences with a population with no frequent pain. Second, to examine if psychosocial resources at baseline were associated with pain at follow-up among men and women in the frequent pain population.

Methods: This study was based on survey data from the Swedish Health Assets Project, including The General Self-Efficacy Scale and social support questions. Participants (n = 4010, 55% women) were divided into no frequent pain (n = 2855) and frequent pain (n = 1155). General self-efficacy and social support were analyzed (cross-sectional and longitudinal data) with linear and logistic regressions.

Results: Men, with and without frequent pain, had higher general self-efficacy than the corresponding groups in women. Women, with and without frequent pain, had stronger emotional social support than the corresponding groups in men. Men with no frequent pain had weaker instrumental social support than women with no frequent pain (OR = 0.64 (95% CI 0.47-0.87)), men with frequent pain did not (OR = 1.32 (95% CI 0.86-2.01)). In the frequent pain population, the interaction between sex and strong (compared to weak) emotional social support was statistically significant (p = 0.040) for no frequent pain at follow-up, with women having OR = 1.81 and men OR = 0.62. Among women, strong emotional social support was associated with no frequent pain at follow-up. Among men, strong emotional social support was associated with frequent pain at follow-up.

Conclusion: Some of the associations between general self-efficacy, social support and musculosceletal pain showed unexpected sex patterns. Gendered expectations might have relevance for some of the results.

Keywords: Gender roles; General self-efficacy; Psychosocial aspects; Sex; Social support.

MeSH terms

  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Musculoskeletal Pain*
  • Pain Management
  • Self Efficacy*
  • Social Support