Read 25.10.2021 at 0.27

Expressions of Suffering
: People

Annika Lillrank, Ph.D

Research interests: sociology of health and illness; subjective illness experience, narrative research.

E: Experiencing back pain - a study of men and women with back pain

The musculoskeletal diseases are a major public health problem in Finland. Chronic back pain affects 17 percent of all those over 30 years of age and about 25 percent of all work related disability pensions are due to this disease.

The aim of my current study is to achieve understanding on the subjective experiences of what the life and work are like to female and male back pain sufferers. How do men and women actively meaning-make their life and work in the social interaction between trust and trouble? My ongoing research focus on the process of early disability pension for women between 39 to 56 years old.

Back pain has an aberrant status in bio-medicine mainly because it is so baffling to medical professionals. My resent analysis shows how diagnosing back pain is an uncertain process that ranges from several months to several years, up to 20 years. This long process profoundly challenges the doctor-patient relationships. This problem involves especially lack of objective criteria for assessing in determining whether this is "real". This permitted a disrespectful attitude toward back pain sufferers. Only when the protagonists had actively defined their situation anew, did it indicate the turning points toward diagnosis and treatment.

In this data the addressed major disappointments focused on when subjective experience regarding one's pain or work (dis)ability was not given respectful considerations by the health care system: However, subjective experience proved to be capable of objective evaluations. How the multicausal subjective experiences and how these conflicting impacts should be interpreted are central questions for further research.

My mutiple data consists of 165 individually written autobiographies, obtained through the national writing competition "Elämän selkäranka" in 1999. During the spring 1999 I conducted in-depth interviews with 16 women and 7 men. This is a coherent data on questions regarding women's back pain and work related circumstances.

This research provides new knowledge and understanding of the complex microsocial circumstances of what work and everyday life are like for people suffering from back pain. The study offers new theoretical knowledge of how to conceptualise the subjective experience of back pain between back pain sufferers and the health care system. Moreover, it contributes new knowledge of how to improve the health care and the rehabilitation management, thus filling hithero neglected areas of relevant research.

Lillrank, Annika: (In press: Social Science and Medicine) Back Pain and the Resolution of Diagnostic Uncertainty in Illness Narratives.

Lillrank, Annika (2002) The Tensions between Overt Talk and Covert Emotions in Illness Narratives: Transition from Clinician to Researcher. Culture, Medicine and Psychiatry 26: 111-127.

Lillrank, Annika and Ullamaija Seppälä (2000) Sairauden ja terveyden kokemus maallikkonäkökulmasta, (Lay Experience of Health and Illness) in Terveyssosiologian suuntauksia.(eds) Kangas, Ilka, Karvonen, Sakari, Lillrank, Annika. Gaudeamus Kirja, University Press of Finland Ltd.

Lillrank, Annika (1999) Samspelet mellan verbal och icke-verbal interaktion i forskningsintervjuer (The Interplay Between Overt Talk and Covert Emotions in Interviews) Sosiologia No 2, pp 95-108.

Lillrank, Annika (1999)Varför insjuknade vårt barn? (Why did our child fall ill?) Nordisk Sosialt Arbeid Nr. 1,pp 33-38.

Lillrank, Annika (1998) Living One Day at a Time - Parental Dilemmas of Managing the Experience and the Care of Childhood Cancer. Doctoral Dissertation, Stakes Research Report 89. Gummerus printing, Jyväskylä.

Lillrank, Annika (1998) Päivä kerrallaan - Vanhempien selviytymisstrategiat lapsen sairastuttua syöpään (Living One Day at a Time - Parental Coping Strategies After The Child Is Diagnosed with Cancer) Yhteiskuntapolitiikka Vol. 63 No 4 pp 317-326.

Lillrank, Annika (1998) Chronic Childhood Illness In Contemporary Society. Sosiaalilääketieteellinen aikakausilehti No 4 pp 291-293.

Lillrank, Annika (1991) Kvinnors dilemma i välfärdsstaten; att arbeta och sköta sjukt barn (Women's Dilemma in a Welfare State: How to Care for a Sick Child when Working Full-Time) Naistutkimus-Kvinnoforskning Vol. 4. No1 pp 7-13.


- Selkäpotilaiden kokemuksia diagnoosiprosessista. (How patients with back pain experience the diagnosing process). Luennot lääkäripäivillä taamikuussa 2002, Sosiologipäivillä maaliskuussa 2002 ja Terveystieteen päivillä lokakuussa 2002.

Helsinki Collegium for Advanced Studies
P.O. Box 4, FIN-00014 University of Helsinki
E-Mail:, Telephone: +358-9-191 23915, +358-9-2989516