To understand the nature of chronic pain, it’s important to also acknowledge scientifically established gender differences in pain perception. The medical community now recognizes the differences in how men and women experience pain, particularly that of a chronic nature, but how does it affect the treatment of that pain?
While the sex hormones testosterone and estrogen do play a role in gender differences in pain perception, it’s not the only factor. Culture, psychology, and conditioning may also be a determining factor in how people process, manage and deal with chronic pain on a daily basis.
On the biological front, researchers have injected male laboratory animals with estrogen and females with testosterone to observe pain threshold changes with the introduction of these hormones. Female animals with higher testosterone levels appear to exhibit a higher pain threshold, while male animals with higher-than-normal estrogen levels show signs of a lowered tolerance to pain. With clear research supporting biological differences in pain perception connected to female sex hormones, this is one explanation. In fact, researchers at Montreal’s McGill University have discovered that male and female mice use entirely different types of cells to transmit pain signals to their central nervous system.
Female patients also show better results with kappa-opioid pain relievers than their male counterparts, though researchers have yet to clearly understand why this is the case.
Women are statistically more likely to experience chronic pain than men, but they’re also more likely to actively seek effective care, along with good emotional support systems. They’re also using less opioid pain relievers after surgery than their male counterparts, however, which could indicate they’re getting better results from those medications than men.
In terms of treatment, women are also more likely to be undertreated for pain than men, despite the fact that they feel it more intensely. The National Women’s Health Resource Center reports women struggling with chronic pain have a more difficult time convincing doctors of its severity. Men, on the other hand, tend to take their pain less seriously and, as a result, often fail to seek treatment until the situation becomes intolerable. This leaves them in pain for longer than necessary, while potentially serious conditions have the opportunity to worsen. This leaves men and women alike in pain, often undertreated.
This is where a more conservative, prescription-free approach to pain relief can be beneficial to men and women alike. Working with a Doctor of Chiropractic provides the opportunity to discuss pain clearly while making a treatment plan with solid, realistic goals. Practitioners who understand pain perception disparities between genders can also use this knowledge to better treat all their patients.
The connections between sex hormones, psychological conditioning and gender differences in pain perceptions are still hazy, with many questions yet to be answered. Regardless of the biological reasons for disparities in the experience of pain, it remains true that it must be approached and treated differently for men and women.