How Pain Affects Women and Men Differently

How Pain Affects Women and Men Differently

How Pain Affects Women and Men Differently

Men and women are very different as we all know. And it's also true when it comes to pain.  Let’s explore how pain affects women and men differently.

For example, research shows that pain is more prevalent among women and report it more often than men. Women also show more sensitivity to pain with higher incidents of clinical and chronic pain.

Studies also show that there are several reasons for the disparity, such as hormones or stereotypical gender roles as factors in pain sensitivity. Knowing how women and men differ when it comes to pain can help with diagnoses, treatments, and therapies that are gender-based rather than a one-size-fits-all protocol.

Women and Pain

While women may experience more pain, research also shows that women recover quicker from pain than men. Women are also more likely to seek help to find the cause or to relieve their pain.

Women tend not to allow pain to define their life, utilizing a variety of resources, such as seeking support, coping skills or distractions. However, biology also plays a role, specifically hormones.

Estrogen, a female hormone, in laboratory studies was showed to induce lower pain thresholds while testosterone, a male hormone increased pain tolerance.

Another finding was that estrogen appears to play a role in the ability to recognized pain, acting as a switch.

Women, Men, and Pain Medication

Women tend to use more prescription and nonprescription pain medication than men. However, there is some research that shows that there may be gender bias in the treatment of pain with women at a higher risk of not receiving pain treatment.

For example, women with complaints of chest pain are less likely than men to receive cardiac treatment. Also, after cardiac surgery, women are more likely to get a sedative whereas men are more likely to receive painkillers.

Women and men also respond differently to pain medications and the natural pain-killing systems of the body function differently. For example, kappa-opioids, mostly used for pain during labor work better for women than for men. Researchers are not sure if it's estrogens that help the chemicals bind to neural receptors or if testosterone prevent the drug from working. There is also the possibility that the difference in the perception of pain may be a factor.

Women tend to use less self-administered opioids after an operation than men several studies show. Although, there is the suggestion that because women have more adverse side effects from opioids, this may also contribute to their using less of them post-operatively.

Women, Men, and Nonpharmacologic Intervention for Pain

Research shows that women and men also differ when it comes to relieving pain that does not involve analgesics. A study using cognitive intervention where men and women were told to focus on the sensations of pain to reduce it was more effective with men than with the women.

Research using other methods to reduce pain, such as exercising on a treadmill or playing video games, showed differences in how genders responded. For example, physical therapy was shown to be more useful to reduce back pain in men than women. But, intensive aerobic workouts reduced pain in women and not in men.

Pain is a complex subject in and of itself. Adding the differences between men and women's relationship to pain makes it even more complicated. Scientists suggest that the mechanisms for the differences are an interaction of psychological, biological, and sociocultural influences.

The research on pain, however, points out one crucial element: Preclinical and human studies involving pain need to always include both genders.


Anaesth, Br J. Sex differences in pain: a brief review of clinical and experimental findings (July 2013). Retrieved from

Chronic Pain Conditions. Retrieved from

Kiesel, Laura. Chronic pain and childhood trauma (April 02, 2018). Retrieved from

Pain, J. Sex, Gender, and Pain: A Review of Recent Clinical and Experimental Findings (May 2009).


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