Gender, power, and pain: A new look at an old malady

Brenda Jean King (2007)

Chronic pain is a leading cause of high utilization of medical services, prescription medications, lost wages, and workers' compensation claims, and women are treated for chronic pain far more often than men are. Recent research is beginning to show that groups with lower social power experience pain more intensely, and have greater disability from pain than do groups possessing higher social power. Current treatment of chronic pain is limited in its scope and approach in that little significance is given to the meanings that pain historically has carried for the person in pain and for pain sufferers' interactions with significant others, or the meanings of pain within the larger culture. This dissertation presents an exploration of chronic pain in married women as a manifestation of cultural and personal power imbalances. To that end, it examines and integrates several contributing concepts. These concepts include: personal, social, and cultural power; interactions between sociocultural power and personal power or self-efficacy; stereotypes and cultural images as mechanisms of power; historical images of pain, cultural images and expectations of women in pain, historical images of the role of wife; and the psychological issues related to chronic pain as currently understood. The dissertation synthesizes these various concepts into a cogent conceptual framework within which the experience of chronic pain in married women may be viewed. The dissertation discusses the usefulness of this framework as a lens through which to view clinical cases and thus approach interventions. The dissertation then offers possibilities for further research, and it concludes with caveats and the implications of current medical research.