Graduation Year


Document Type

Capstone Project

Project Type

Qualitative Study

Degree Name

Master of Science in Occupational Therapy


Occupational Therapy

Program Chair

Julia Wilbarger, PhD, OTR/L

Faculty Advisor

Karen McCarthy, PhD, OT/L


College students with chronic pain often experience difficulty engaging in social activities both on and off campus due to stigma, misconceptions, or social exclusions (Culp & Rojas-Guyler, 2014). To fully understand the barriers to social engagement, the researchers used a qualitative phenomenological approach and semi-structured interviews to explore the lived experiences of 15 college students with chronic pain (pain lasting more than six months). Four main themes were identified: the additional influence of personality on social participation; stigma and lack of understanding of chronic pain; the “domino effect” of pain impacting energy, sleep quality, and ability to function throughout the day; and lastly, self-awareness of the participant’s own body, pain tolerance, and self-boundaries. The reviewed literature examined disabilities as physical, visible impairments, and focused on limited access as the primary barrier to engagement. Although previous research notes the physical environment and occupational injustice as the barriers to social engagement, this study broadened the focus to also include personal and occupational barriers. Participants were able to push through the pain using coping strategies, pain management, and adaptations to promote social engagement. By understanding the lived experiences of individuals with chronic pain, occupational therapists can work with individuals to restore meaning to their occupations.