Men and women will never know the pain which the other bears, but researchers are studying the different ways in which men and women experience pain. Most pain studies are done on male rats, while pain is a problem most women face. In fact, most chronic pain patients are women.
Researchers conducted pain experiments, such as “increasingly hot stimulation on the inner arm, immersion of the hand in very cold water, electrical jolts to the skin,” to both men and women. The study concluded that “women show lower pain thresholds (that is, they report pain at lower levels of stimulus intensity) and lower tolerance (they can’t bear intense pain as long).” While this research suggests that women are more sensitive to pain at lower levels, they seem to tolerate higher levels; for instance, during childbirth. This may be in part to increased levels of estrogen, when women experience less migraines and TMD pain. Estrogen may also enhance pain at lower levels. But studies vary about linking estrogen to pain.
Back to why women experience greater pain than men: a woman’s sensitivity to pain may be linked to motherhood. The article continues: “Females are more sensitive in general to changes in smell, temperature, visual cues, and other stimuli that may signal danger — traits that could have helped them in earlier times to protect the children they watched while the men were away. Experiencing pain in a more heightened way may be one more example of that sensitivity.”
Research on why men and women experience pain differently continues, but the article comes to one conclusion: “In this culture, women are often encouraged to express pain, and men to hide it.” However, this does not mean that people are more understanding and apathetic to those women. “In the clinic, this often translates to gender bias and under-treatment of pain,” notes Dr. Roger B. Fillingim, lead author of an exhaustive 2009 review of sex and pain research published by the American Pain Society.
To read the full article on Boston.com, click here.