Gender May Affect Experience of Chronic Pain

August 16, 2010

Research highlighted at the American Psychological Association suggests that women experience chronic pain longer and more intensely than men.

Research highlighted at the American Psychological Association suggests that women experience chronic pain longer and more intensely than men.

“Chronic pain affects a higher proportion of women than men around the world,” said Jennifer Kelly, PhD, of the Atlanta Center for Behavioral Medicine, in a press release. “We need to encourage women to take a more active role in their treatment and reduce the stigma and embarrassment of this problem.”

One reason for the difference may be hormones, she said.

“Pain perception does vary according to the menstrual cycle phases in women with chronic pain,” Kelly said. “For example, temporomandibular [jaw] pain, or TMJ, is highest in the pre-menstrual period and during menses.”

Genetic and hormonal differences may play a role, she said, but social and psychological factors may also be key.

“Women tend to focus on the emotional aspects of pain,” she said. “Men tend to focus on the physical sensations they experience. Women who concentrate on the emotional aspects of their pain may actually experience more pain as a result, possibly because the emotions associated with pain are negative.”

Tips offered to deal with the differences include:

- Encourage patients to take an active role in their treatment and in caring for themselves, such as eating well and getting exercise

- Provide psychological support

- Explore cognitive coping strategies

- Offer relaxation and biofeedback training