Despite the notable benefits of physical activity for chronic pain, a large proportion of patients with chronic pain report that they do not receive activity-related recommendations from their providers. Research suggests that patient factors such as weight and gender influence activity-related recommendations for chronic pain. Research also suggests that appraisals of the intensity and cause of pain may explain these weight and gender effects. We investigated the influence of patient weight and gender on observers’ likelihood of recommending activity-related treatments for pain. We also explored the mediating effects of observers’ ratings of pain severity and the extent to which pain was due to medical and lifestyle factors (pain attribution).
Healthy young adults (N=616; 76% female) viewed videos (Ghent Pain Videos of Daily Activities) and vignettes of 4 patients with chronic back pain performing a standardized functional task. Patients varied by gender (female, male) and weight (normal, obese), but were otherwise equivalent on demographic characteristics and pain behaviors. Participants rated how much pain they perceived the patients to be experiencing, the extent to which they attributed the pain to medical and lifestyle factors, and their likelihood of recommending exercise, physical therapy (PT), and rest.
Patient weight and gender significantly interacted to influence exercise, PT, and rest recommendations. Both pain intensity and pain attribution mediated the relationships between patient weight and activity recommendations; however, these mediation effects differed across gender and recommendation type.
Patient weight and gender influenced laypeople’s activity recommendations for chronic pain. Moreover, the results suggest that observers’ perceptions of pain intensity and pain attributions are mechanisms underlying these effects. If these findings are replicated in providers, interventions may need to be developed to reduce provider biases and increase their recognition of the benefits of physical activity for chronic pain.