Women And Pain

Women And Pain“Pain is pain” some might say, but of course we know that there are varying degrees of pain, as well as different types and durations which all affect our perceptions of pain. What we never expected was to find out that not only does pain vary based on the above reasons but also based on one’s sex. On average, women experience more pain than men. Women tend to experience more recurrent pain, more severe pain, and longer lasting pain than men*. There are conditions that have much higher rates of occurrence specifically in women such as temporomandibular joint disorder, migraine headaches, fibromyalgia, rheumatoid arthritis, irritable bowel syndrome, and osteoarthritis. Chronic pelvic pain, as well as chronic pain in general,affects a higher percentage of women than men, specifically, 70% of the people who suffer from some form of chronic pain are women. But why are women more likely to experience pain, and why more severe pain? This question, unfortunately, does not have a definitive answer, yet…. We are hoping in the near future sufficient research and studies will be conducted to shed more light on the matter, in the meantime, there are a few theories that combine to form the reasoning as it stands now:
  • Changes in the immune system cause women to have more inflammatory pain conditions and others like fibromyalgia.
  • Differences in hormones – women’s and men’s hormones vary which could explain the higher rates of pain
  • Changes in hormones – women tend to go through many hormonal changes throughout their lives, which can affect awareness of pain. A particularly big one is the dip in estrogen prior to menopause, which can cause the onset or heighten the perception of pain from, for example, a chronic pain condition.
  • Psychological differences – women are at higher risk for anxiety and depression, both of which are known to worsen pain symptoms in chronic conditions.
  • Women may be more aware of pain – since pain is a signal of danger, and natural human reaction to danger is to seek safety
But it’s not all bad news for women, there are tips for dealing with pain that will help combat it:
  • Prevention and early intervention – don’t let it get bad, if you know you have a chronic condition you have to implement a daily treatment routine, be it improved diet, exercise, medications, laser energy pain relieving device, to stave off a worsening in the condition.
  • As stated above stress, anxiety, and depression all have a negative effect on ailments, conditions, and pain, not only can they make them worse but also initiate the start of a new episode. Therefore, to counter the effects of mental strain women need to learn and practice relaxation techniques, such as ones we discussed last week (Mindful Meditation)
  • Take good care of yourself – overall women tend to take care of others before taking care of themselves. It seems that in cases of chronic pain, women take even worse care of themselves because of guilt over not being able to take care of others, as well as not feeling well enough to take care of themselves. While understandable it is counterproductive for resolving their pain issues. Women should try to pay more attention to themselves which will help with pain reduction, and enable them to take care of others.
  • Treat your symptoms – do not feel that you have to “live with it” and “get through it”. It is always best to treat when possible. If medication is not the way to go for you then, there may be physical therapy, supplements, pain relief devices, massages, and others techniques that can help.
  • Lean self-compassion – you will inevitably feel pain and have worse days than others, and it is essential to learn to feel ok with it and with yourself for not being able to do everything that you may want to be able to do. In a study conducted at Stanford for compassion meditation**, the participants, of whom most were women, reported “reduced anger and pain severity at post-treatment”.
References * Unruh AM. Gender differences in the clinical pain experience. Pain.1996 May-Jun;65(2-3):123-67. Review **[8] Chapin HL, Darnall BD, Seppala E, Hah JM, Doty J, Mackey SC. Compassion meditation training for people living with chronic pain and their significant others: A pilot study and mixed-methods analysis. J Compassionate Healthcare. 2014; 1:4.
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