Qualitative meta-synthesis: The experience of chronic pain across conditions

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Title

Journal of Advanced Nursing


Blackwell Publishing Ltd


School of Nursing and Midwifery




Crowe, M., Whitehead, L., Seaton, P., Jordan, J., Mccall, C., Maskill, V., & Trip, H. (2017). Qualitative meta‐synthesis: The experience of chronic pain across conditions. Journal of Advanced Nursing, 73(5), pp. 1004-1016. https://doi.org/10.1111/jan.13174


Aim To synthesize qualitative descriptions of the experience of chronic pain across conditions. Background Chronic pain is a transdiagnostic symptom in that while somatic pathology plays a role in activating pain pathways, psychological and social factors contribute to the experience of pain over time. The treatment of the underlying condition may require both biomedical intervention and biopsychosocial approaches. Design Qualitative meta-synthesis using Confidence in the Evidence from Reviews of Qualitative Research (CERQual) developed by Grading of Recommendations Assessment Development and Evaluation (GRADE) working group to evaluate the strength of the evidence. Data sources PubMed and Ovid Medline from 2000–2015. Review methods Following a systematic search strategy all papers were assessed in relation to inclusion criteria and quality. Themes were extracted from each study and a meta-synthesis conducted before completing an evaluation of confidence in the findings. Results Forty-one papers exploring the experience of chronic pain were included in the review. Five meta-themes were identified across the studies: 1) the body as obstacle; 2) invisible but real; 3) disrupted sense of self; 4) unpredictability; and 5) keeping going. There was high confidence in the evidence for three themes: ‘the body as obstacle’; ‘disrupted sense of self’ and ‘keeping going’; and moderate confidence in the evidence for ‘invisible but real’ and ‘unpredictability’. Conclusions The findings in this review suggest there are similarities in the experience of chronic pain across a range of conditions that have implications for the development of transdiagnostic pain management strategies and interventions.



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