Gender-related differences in treatment outcomes for patients with musculoskeletal disorders

Donald D. McGeary, Tom G. Mayer, Robert J. Gatchel, Christopher Anagnostis, Timothy J. Proctor

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

54 Scopus citations


Background context: Clinicians have long hypothesized that gender may be a risk factor in treatment outcomes of patients with chronic disability associated with musculoskeletal disorders. Although the scientific literature shows a higher prevalence of occupational low back injury in men, and a higher rate of repetitive motion and neck injuries in women, few studies have comprehensively investigated the role of gender regarding cost-related outcome variables of significance after work-related injuries. Purpose: This study was designed to examine the relationship between gender and biopsychosocial treatment outcomes in a predominately chronically disabled spinal disorder (CDSD) workers' compensation cohort undergoing a tertiary functional restoration program. Study design: A prospective comparison cohort study investigating the effect of gender on biopsychosocial treatment outcomes as risk factors for rehabilitation failure. Patient sample: A cohort of 1,827 consecutively treated patients with CDSD were placed into two gender-based groups: men (n=1,158, average age 40.7±10 years) and women (n=669, average age 42.5±10 years). Outcome measures: Before the start of the program, and again upon completion of the program, all patients received a standard psychosocial assessment and were assessed on a variety of physical factors (leading to a cumulative score, calculated on the basis of the aggregates and averages of these physical measures). A structured clinical interview examining socioeconomic outcomes was conducted at 1 year after program completion, and at least partial information was obtained from this interview on all patients in the present study. Methods: All patients underwent a medically directed functional restoration program combining quantitatively guided exercise progression with a multimodal disability management approach using psychological and case management techniques. Results: Men had a significantly higher rate of lumbar injury than women, whereas women had a significantly higher rate of cervical injury. Men returned to work and retained work at a 40 hours/week job at a higher rate at 1-year follow-up. Women evidenced a higher rate of health care-seeking behaviors from new providers. On physical testing immediately after treatment, men had a significantly higher cumulative physical score (gender normalized), both before and after treatment. On depression and disability questionnaires, men showed fewer pre- and posttreatment depressive symptoms with lower pretreatment disability scores. Conclusions: The present study represents the first large-scale examination of the relationship between gender and treatment outcomes for a population with CDSD after work injuries. There was a pattern of moderately better 1-year posttreatment socioeconomic outcome for men. On psychosocial measures, men showed lower disability and depression scores than women, with higher levels of physical functioning both before and after treatment. Overall, male patients with CDSD appeared to show somewhat better biopsychosocial outcomes. This leaves the question of identifying gender-specific risk factors to explain these differences.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)197-203
Number of pages7
JournalSpine Journal
Issue number3
StatePublished - May 2003
Externally publishedYes


  • Biopsychosocial outcomes
  • Chronic pain/disability
  • Depression
  • Gender
  • Physical capacity
  • Spinal disorders

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Surgery
  • Orthopedics and Sports Medicine
  • Clinical Neurology


Dive into the research topics of 'Gender-related differences in treatment outcomes for patients with musculoskeletal disorders'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this