Why go online when you have pain? A qualitative analysis of teenagers' use of the Internet for pain management advice

E. M. Henderson, E. Keogh, C. Eccleston

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Citations (SciVal)


Background: Adolescents are routinely recognized as native to online technologies. However, we know from previous research that this familiarity does not often translate into its use for help-seeking around health. We designed this study to examine the experience of adolescents in using the Internet to access pain management information, specifically why some adolescents may be reluctant to use these resources. Methods: Twenty-six healthy, school attending, adolescents aged between 14 and 17 years old were recruited to a qualitative study of focus groups. Seventeen participants were female and nine were male. Participation was limited to those who self-selected as frequent users of the Internet, but who were loath to use it as a resource for health information as we wished to explore reasons for non-use. All data were thematically analysed. Results: Most participants reported using the Internet to seek health information at least once. Experiences with online content were typically negative and drawn on only when all other sources of information and pain coping were exhausted. Three themes emerged, Drivers of Internet use, Barriers, and Anxiety around use. Adolescent health websites were reported to be confusing, anxiety provoking and hard to negotiate. The Internet was judged to be less accessible than other forms of pain and health coping information. Secondary themes related to topic embarrassment, the strive for independence and reassurance, preferred information source failure, curiosity, website design, availability of OTC analgesics, effort, fear-provoking narratives, mistrust of quality of online content and pain-related anxiety. Conclusions: Counter to many positive reports of the health benefits of Internet use during information seeking, its value is questionable to some adolescents. Typical experience was anxiety provoking, unlikely to yield helpful results, and wasteful comparative to off-line resources for pain.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)572-579
Number of pages8
JournalChild: Care Health & Development
Issue number4
Early online date12 May 2013
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2014


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