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How Pain Impacts Men and Women Differently

There’s been ongoing social debate for years about who withstands pain better: men or women. Perhaps you’ve even had such a discussion at your dinner table. Some believe women have an overall higher tolerance for pain, thanks in part to their experience with childbirth and menstrual periods. Others feel men are more adept at “muscling through” a painful experience.

But there’s an abundance of research establishing scientific reasons why men and women truly do experience pain differently. Here are some of the fascinating — and informative — findings.

Biological Differences

According to the Journal of Bone & Joint Surgery, “Women are more likely than men to develop [painful] conditions, especially of the musculoskeletal system . . . such as osteoarthritis, most inflammatory arthropathies, fibromyalgia, and low back pain.” This is because of a variety of factors, including differences in anatomy, sex-hormone levels, and responses to inflammation.

Researcher and psychologist Roger Fillingim has been studying gender differences and pain for over twenty years, and has also concluded that women’s higher levels and fluctuations of estrogen and progesterone may be contributing factors. “[M]en have higher levels of testosterone,” he told NPR, which in some studies appeared to protect against pain, or decrease pain sensitivity.

Genetic predisposition may also contribute to pain experience. Sarah Linnstaedt, a translational biologist at the University of North Carolina Medical Center, has recently identified a series of RNA molecules in the bloodstream “that are more likely to be elevated in women who develop chronic neck, shoulder or back pain after a motor-vehicle accident. Many of these RNA molecules are encoded by genes on the X chromosome, of which there are two copies in most women.”

Psychological Differences

Differences in handling the stress and anxiety pain can cause may be another factor. In her studies, Jennifer Kelly, PhD, of the Atlanta Center for Behavioral Medicine has observed: “Women tend to focus on the emotional aspects of pain. Men tend to focus on the physical sensations they experience. Women who concentrate on the emotional aspects of their pain may actually experience more pain as a result, possibly because the emotions associated with pain are negative.” Women may also be more prone to depression caused by chronic pain.

“Pain expression is complex: though partly hard-wired by evolution, it is affected by many personal factors,” an analysis of pain from University College London acknowledges. Psychological beliefs about articulating or expressing pain could make it difficult to gauge its severity, for example. “Men are still often expected to suppress certain emotions and action . . .” The Conversation points out, “and these beliefs may also affect how pain is expressed, viewed and responded to.”

The gender of a care provider could also psychologically influence a patient’s honesty about pain: “I’ve noticed that women typically feel more comfortable discussing pain symptoms and being vulnerable with female health care providers,” Leia Rispoli, M.D., a pain management specialist and associate physician at Remedy Pain Solutions, told Glamour, “which, in chronic pain, there are very few of us.”

A Call for Individualized Treatment

Many of these studies around pain and gender are comparatively recent, and research is still ongoing. Even as progress continues, pain assessment may still be impacted by gender bias.

This is why we specialize in individualized pain assessment, care, and treatment. While we are your advocates in finding the best pain solution, we encourage you to advocate for yourself, and are dedicated to listening to your specific concerns, needs, and questions.

Whether you identify as a man, woman, or non-binary individual, pain management is one of our specialties. For caring, high-quality pain management solutions, visit our website or call us at 833-523-0906.