Document Type


Date of Degree

Spring 2017

Access Restrictions

Access restricted until 07/13/2018

Degree Name

PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)

Degree In

Social Work

First Advisor

Sara Sanders


Older adults (65+) are one of the fastest growing segments of the population in the United States. Chronic pain is common among this population, and chronic low back pain (CLBP) in particular is the number one pain complaint among older adults. In addition to larger societal and fiscal costs, CLBP is associated with a host of personal negative consequences such as physical disability, poor psychosocial functioning, and decreased quality of life. Despite being a leading health problem in older adulthood, little is known about how older adults actually experience this type of pain. Thus, the purpose of this dissertation was to understand older adults’ lived experience of CLBP.

To improve understanding of CLBP in this understudied population, a qualitative study using a phenomenological method was conducted. Phenomenology, rooted in existential philosophy, is the study of the nature and meanings of phenomena, in which experiences related to the phenomena are the main source of insight. van Manen’s Phenomenology of Practice method specifically guided the investigation with regard to study conception, data collection, and data analysis. Participants were 21 older pain clinic patients living with CLBP who engaged in one-on-one in-depth interviews.

Findings suggest that CLBP is an all-encompassing presence in participants’ lives. Seven main themes include: (1) Living a life full of pain; (2) Pain affects everything; (3) With others but a lone in my pain; (4) With pain comes sorrow; (5) Aging painfully; (6) Managing the incurable; (7) You just have to keep going. Implications for social work practice, research, and policy are discussed. By building a deeper understanding of older adult’s experiences and personal meaning of CLBP, social workers may be more able to provide meaningful and effective psychosocial services in the context of interdisciplinary CLBP management.


chronic low back pain, older adults, pain clinic, phenomenology


xi, 336 pages


Includes bibliographical references (pages 294-336).


Copyright © 2017 Meredith L. Stensland

Available for download on Friday, July 13, 2018