Women's experiences of the journey to chronic widespread pain: a qualitative study

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Background: Chronic widespread pain (CWP) is a musculoskeletal disorder that affects approximately 10% of the population. It is more common in women than in men. It is important to understand how CWP develops and how it is maintained in order to prevent poor pain prognosis. Long term studies have shown that a mere part improves over time or fluctuates in their CWP condition. Female gender is one of the factors associated with persistence of CWP, suggesting men and women may experience their journey to CWP differently. The aim of the study was to explore women's experiences of the journey to CWP. Methods: 19 women between 45 and 67 years of age who had not reported CWP in the EPIPAIN survey in 1995, but reported CWP in 2016, participated in the study. Data was collected through individual interviews, where open-ended questions were used to explore the women's experiences of their pain journey. The interviews were analyzed with a manifest qualitative content analysis. Results: The women described their journey to CWP in terms of triggering, aggravating, and consolidating factors, from which three different categories emerged. Experiencing that environmental circumstances affect the pain journey refers to factors outside the women's immediate control, which appeared as unmanageable work-related demands, lack of social support, unfavorable physical environments, and traumatic events. Experiencing that lifestyle affects the pain journey refers to events that are consciously or unconsciously carried out by the women, including different levels of physical efforts and unfavorable behaviors. Experiencing that personal attributes affect the pain journey refers to the women's characteristics in terms of an anxious state of mind and adverse biological impact. Conclusions: The women experienced that environmental circumstances, lifestyle, and personal attributes affected their CWP. How these adversities influenced the pain journey varied among the women. These findings show that women are conscious of the complexity of the condition and can describe the broad context of their pain journey. This study confirms the complexity of pain progress and highlights the individual's awareness of this complexity, which is important to consider when introducing interventions, and when expecting compliance to interventions.


External organisations
  • Halmstad University
  • Linnaeus University
  • Spenshult Research and Development Center
  • Karolinska Institutet
Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • Rheumatology and Autoimmunity


  • Chronic widespread pain, Interviews, Pain development, Pain journey, Patient experiences, Qualitative content analysis, Qualitative study, Women
Original languageEnglish
Article number417
JournalBMC Musculoskeletal Disorders
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2020 Jun 30
Publication categoryResearch