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The role of psychosocial resources in the complex interplay between pain, gendered norms and health care – qualitative and longitudinal studies

Research project

Short description

Nineteen percent of the adult population in Western societies suffer from long-lasting pain which has negative effects on physical health, mental health, quality of life, work capacity, family relations, household duties and leisure activities. Research has shown differences between men and women, how they perceive, describe and handle pain, and how they are treated in health care. In this research project we want to explore and analyse gender norms about men and women with pain. Further, we want to examine the role of the patient-physician encounter in the constitution and co-constitution of these norms. Deepened knowledge about gender and pain is a prerequisite for equitable health care, more capable of meeting the needs of all patients.

A man suffering from pain
A man suffering from pain
Photo: Simmon Okongo

“Brave men” and “emotional women”… 

… is the title of a literature review that compiles and analyses gendered norms about men and women with long-lasting pain and gender bias, medically unmotivated differences between men and women, in health care. Seventy-seven included scientific articles describe how men and women with long-lasting pain are expected to be, to express their pain, handle their life and how the pain affected their identity in different ways. As an example, several studies showed that women with pain were dismissed as hysterical. Other studies described how men with pain diagnoses were perceived as feminine and had to struggle with their sense of masculinity. The literature review shows that gendered norm in health care are common. Researchers and clinicians need to be aware of gendered norms and gender bias, to able to provide equitable care based on every patient’s need instead of presumptions about what we believe men and women need.    

“Sense of control”… 

… is an interview study. Five women and three men with long-lasting pain described how multimodal pain rehabilitation had affected their everyday life. The participants experienced a better sense of control over their pain and their everyday life after rehabilitation. They described a trustful patient-provider-relationship, based on trust on the providers competence, as necessary for their pain acceptance. Better knowledge, particularly on body function and medication was also important. Research has earlier described social support as an important coping strategy. In this study the participants did not perceive social support as crucial when it comes to handle pain in everyday life. The participants in our study were aware of gendered norms in health care and saw that as a potential obstacle for equity in health care.       

Psychosocial resources among people with frequent pain and less frequent pain: differences and similarities across gender 

This population-based study includes data from 2225 women and 1785 men from the Health Assets Project. The cross-sectional part aims to assess the distribution of general self-efficacy, instrumental social support and emotional social support among men and women with frequent pain, and to assess if the distribution of these psychosocial resources differs between men and women with frequent pain compared to men and women with less frequent pain. The longitudinal part of this study aims to assess differences between men and women with frequent pain in the longitudinal associations between general self-efficacy, instrumental and emotional social support and pain frequency. The results will be discussed in relation to gendered expectations on men and women.

Psychosocial determinants for increased pain frequency among men and women with less frequent pain at baseline

This population-based longitudinal study is based on data from the Health Assets Project, including data from 590 women and 291 men. We are going to assess how psychosocial resources predict pain frequency among men and women with less frequent pain at baseline.

 A woman suffering from pain
A woman suffering from pain
Photo: Simmon Okongo