Sex differences in subjective and objective measures of pain, functional impairment, and health-related quality of life in patients with lumbar degenerative disc disease

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Abstract

Sex differences in pain perception are known to exist; however, the exact pathomechanism remains unclear. This work aims to elucidate sex differences in subjective and objective measures of pain, functional impairment, and health-related quality of life (HRQoL) in patients with lumbar degenerative disc disease. In a prospective 2-center study, back and leg pain (visual analogue scale [VAS]), functional disability (Oswestry Disability Index and Roland–Morris Disability Index), and HRQoL (EuroQol-5D and Short Form [SF12]) were collected for consecutive patients undergoing lumbar spine surgery. Objective functional impairment (OFI) was estimated using age-adjusted and sex-adjusted cutoff values for the timed-up-and-go (TUG) test. A healthy cohort of n = 110 subjects served as the control group. Univariate and multivariate analyses were performed to test the association between sex and pain, subjective and OFIs, and HRQoL. The study comprised n = 305 patients (41.6% females). Female patients had more VAS back pain (P = 0.002) and leg pain (P = 0.014). They were more likely to report higher functional impairment in terms of Oswestry Disability Index (P = 0.005). Similarly, HRQoL measured with the EuroQol-5D index (P = 0.012) and SF12 physical composite score (P = 0.005) was lower in female patients. Female patients reported higher VAS back and leg pain, functional impairment, and reduced HRQoL than male patients. However, there were no sex differences with respect to the presence and degree of OFI measured by the TUG test using age-adjusted and sex-adjusted cutoff values. As such, the TUG may be a good test to overcome sex bias for the clinical assessment of patients with degenerative disc disease.

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