Experiencing Pain

Women and men experience pain differently. Recent studies reveal that women, when compared to men, experience:

  • more recurrent, severe and longer lasting pain
  • 50% higher rates of pain in head, neck, shoulder, knee and back
  • twice as likely to experience orofacial pain
  • 150% higher rates of migraine headaches
  • 4 times as likely to experience fibromyalgia
  • up to age 65, more likely to experience pain in multiple regions in the body

Men, on the other hand, experience higher rates of multiple painful conditions, including cluster
headaches, coronary heart disease, gout, duodenal
ulcers and pancreatic disease.

Why the differences?

First, our physiology and our sex hormones differ. Scientists don’t know exactly how androgens and estrogens influence how we perceive pain, but they do know that these hormones affect every system in our bodies (including our immune systems, our metabolism, our nervous system and inflammation induced by trauma). Also, women metabolize and react to drugs differently (perhaps due to genetic differences).

Second, our reaction to stress. Pain is a stressor for the body and mind, and our inherent coping
strategies influence how we perceive pain. Women focus on the interpersonal relationships and emotions and are more likely to see this as a breakdown, feel like they things are ‘out of control’ and worry about the future. They report psychological distress more frequently than men and tend to seek out social and emotional support. When experiencing stress, men focus on solving the problem, tend to evaluate whether they feel they are ‘in control’ of what’s happening, and respond accordingly.

What to do?

Accepting the pain can be the first step to healing. When we accept what’s happening in our bodies, we naturally relax, which aids the body in its natural healing processes. For those dealing with chronic, recurring pain, taking up meditation along with a practice that helps increase your sense of body awareness can help you be ‘present’ with your experience. Meditation has the added benefit of helping you distinguish between your thoughts (what you are thinking about your pain), your feelings (your bodily sensations) and your fears about the future. Highly recommended reading in this area is Full Catastrophe Living by Jon Kabat-Zinn.

Source: CARP – Information from “BEYOND PAIN”, Dr. Mailis Gagnon with David Israelson, (Viking Books, 2006)