Men’s experiences of fibromyalgia

Men are in minority among the people who suffer from fibromyalgia (FM) and therefore the research concerning their experiences is rare. In this project we explore the illness experiences of men living with FM. Moreover, we investigate the experiences of encounters in healthcare both from patients’ and professionals’ perspective.

About the project

Men with fibromyalgia will be interviewed in Finland and in Norway. We aim at performing 8-12 narrative interviews. In addition, health care and rehabilitation professionals  (8-10) with different professional backgrounds will be interviewed


To explore the experiences and perceptions of the illness and recovery/non-recovery process from the vantage point of men with FM.

to explore the experiences and perceptions of professionals working with male FM patients in primary care or in rehabilitation units (e.g. in regard to perceived disability, help-seeking behavior, self-care, motivation and recovery)


The first article on the data collected in Finland is to be submitted in May 2017.


FM is a chronic musculoskeletal disorder characterized by widespread chronic pain, muscular tenderness, sleeping disorders and fatigue (Arnold et al 2008). In addition, patients with FM may suffer from numerous other symptoms such as depression, irritable bowel or concentration and memory problems (Wolfe et al 2010). The specific etiology and pathophysiology of FM are not fully understood but according to the current paradigm, a multifactorial etiology is plausible. The prevalence of fibromyalgia is estimated to range between 2,2 % and 6,6 % in the general population (Branco et al. 2010). For reasons that yet remain unknown, FM is much more common among women than men. In a wide European study, the male- female ratio in FM was 1:3, whereas in some studies women account for 80-90 % of the cases (Branco et al. 2010, Lesley et al. 2011).

The studies about gender differences in fibromyalgia have yielded contradictory results. No significant differences between genders in symptom severity were found in some studies (Häuser et al., 2011; Sanchez et al., 2013), whereas some other studies show that  in comparison to women, men with fibromyalgia may have more restrictions in their physical, mental and social functioning (Aparicio et al., 2012; Castro-Sanchez et al., 2012; Kurtze& Svebak, 2010)

As FM is considered a “women’s illness” in the general discussion, the suffering experienced by men might not be recognized by health professionals as men may present it in another way than women. According to Foss et al. (2004), disorders with no clear-cut pathological findings, such as pain and fatigue, often lead male patients to feel mistreated in health care settings, while female patients believe that they were not taken seriously by the professionals. Katz et al. (2010) in turn, suggest that medical doctors may be reluctant to assign a label of fibromyalgia to men.

To date, little is known about the illness experiences of men with fibromyalgia. In this research project, narrative approach is used to collect and analyze the data. Narrative interviews and analysis differ from other qualitative interviews as it is people’s story and how they tell it that is studied, and accordingly how a person gives meaning to their experiences through structuring their story into a coherent whole. Thus, this method is well suited to elucidate values, attitudes, and fears that are ascribed to various experiences, and reveal important issues linking the individual illness experiences, identity and culturally accepted conventions of talking about the given illness (Becker 1999).


The research has received funding from the European Union Seventh Framework Programme (FP7-PEOPLE-2013-COFUND) under grant agreement n° 609020 - Scientia Fellows.

Start - finish

1.11.2016-  31.12.2017 (papers completed 2019)

Published May 18, 2017 2:31 PM - Last modified May 18, 2017 2:31 PM