biomechanical model of illness

biomechanical (or biomedical) model of illness

a model of illness based on a conception of the body as a physical system which may break down, and need treatment to restore it to good working order. Although there is a good deal of informal health care undertaken outside of medical settings, this model suggests that people normally go to see a doctor when they have a painful or life-threatening condition which cannot be cured by self-medication. It is a model of illness made up of the following elements:
  1. that normally people are either free of symptoms of ill health or are unaware that they are ill;
  2. that illness consists of deviation from a set of biological norms;
  3. that emotional or physical changes which are biological in origin make people aware that something is wrong;
  4. that the initial response to something being wrong is the use of lay remedies such as rest or perhaps a proprietary medicine;
  5. that if the symptoms persist or get worse people will visit the doctor;
  6. that at this point the person is either diagnosed as sick and treated by the doctor, or assured that there is nothing wrong;
  7. that the person who has been diagnosed as sick follows a course of treatment prescribed to make them well, at which point they are pronounced cured.

Sociologists have challenged this model and distinguished between disease as a biological category and illness as a social category Disease refers to biological states such as a fractured limb or a tubercular lung; illness refers to both the subjective feeling of being unwell and the social status of sick person. See also SYMPTOM ICEBERG. TRIVIAL CONSULTATION.

Collins Dictionary of Sociology, 3rd ed. © HarperCollins Publishers 2000