- In studies involving men and women exposed to identical pain stimuli, women rated the pain higher on the pain scale. In addition to sex hormones, other factors affecting pain perception include emotions, attitude, age and a learned response from past experience
It is no secret that men and women are different. Diane Halpern, Ph.D., past president of the American Psychological Association, wrote an academic text, “Sex Differences in Cognitive Abilities.”
Researchers have discovered structural differences in the brains of men and women including a larger total brain volume in men and higher tissue density in the left amygdala, hippocampus and insular cortex. Amber Ruigrok, PhD, carried out the study revealing the asymmetric effect sex has on a developing brain.
She said this:
“For the first time we can look across the vast literature and confirm that brain size and structure are different in males and females. We should no longer ignore sex in neuroscience research, especially when investigating psychiatric conditions that are more prevalent in either males or females.”
As scientists gather more information about the specific differences between men and women, it has brought up lots of Questions.
Roger Fillingim, PhD from the University of Florida has spent years researching differences in pain perception and what implications they may have for pain management.
Dr. Fillingim found that differences in personality and behavior associated with gender are very real and have profound effects on many aspects of life and health.
Gender differences affect the ways in which men and women use logic and solve problems. Even while at rest, neurological activities in the brain are different.
As described in a literature review, Dr. Fillingim began evaluating an area of research suggesting there are gender-based differences in response to pain. He provided a brief overview of the sex-related differences in biological and sociological processes and the role that sex hormones play in influencing pain sensitivity.
He suggested future directions for research with an emphasis on discovering the mechanisms of difference to assist efforts in prescribing specific treatments for men and women. He participated in a follow-up study with the objective of evaluating differences in peripheral and central sensitization in those with symptomatic knee osteoarthritis.
The team concluded there was evidence women have a greater overall sensitivity to pain than men.
In an interview Dr. Fillingim explained what has driven his desire to discover gender-based differences in pain perception, he said the following:
“The burden of pain is substantially greater for women than men, and that led pain researchers like myself to wonder if the pain perception system is different in women than in men.”
Dr. Fillingim is currently the director of the University of Florida’s Pain Research and Intervention Center of Excellence. He and his team recruit healthy volunteers for experimental pain sessions during which participants are exposed to painful stimuli in the form of electrical stimulation, pressure, heat or cold. The volunteers rate their pain on a standard scale of Zero – 10.
He reported his findings are consistent with those of other researchers.
While the pain stimuli are the same, women on average report greater pain. He believes that finding the reason behind the difference may help provide more effective pain treatment beyond a standard prescription for highly addictive opioid drugs.
Dr. Fillingim is investigating several factors that influence the perception of pain, including sex hormones. In discussing pain perception of those living with arthritis, scholars from the Arthritis Foundation point out factors influencing perception include age, emotions and support systems.
In the elderly, regions of the brain that process pain may undergo a structural change predisposing the individual to a reduction in pain perception. However, recent studies have shown that sensation may increase or decrease as you age. Psychological state is also a player in pain treatment.
Researchers have found that those who have a Negative attitude or emotional state may have an increased intensity of their pain and a poor response to pain control. By contrast, those with a Positive attitude often experience better clinical treatment of their pain with medication.
In an analysis of chronic pain in individuals, researchers have found that perception is more than just sensation as it often encompasses emotional aspects, the attention of the individual and learned responses over time.
Anxiety and depression also contribute.
Scientists have found that by providing psychological support they may reduce the use of analgesics and increase an individual’s sense of control. Perceptions in those experiencing chronic pain will also be influenced by their expectation of what they will feel and how they will respond to treatment.
Based on results of a study Dr. Fillingim conducted on those with active knee osteoarthritis, the team suggested that women have an enhanced central sensitivity to pain. Central sensitization occurs in the nervous system when an individual experiences chronic pain.
The condition has 2 characteristics involving heightened sensitivity, 1 of which occurs when the person experiences pain under conditions normally not painful. The other occurs when something that is typically painful is perceived as being more painful. In essence, the central nervous system becomes regulated to a persistent state which lowers an individual’s threshold for what causes pain.
What Dr. Fillingim found is that the perception of an identical acute pain stimulus is greater in women than in men, and that women also experience an enhanced central sensitization to chronic pain.
A major step toward healing and health is to make changes to your diet and lifestyle, which may produce significant results.
The 4 Key areas to address include the following:
- Eliminating or radically reducing your consumption of grains and sugars
- Increasing your intake of animal-based omega-3 fats
- Optimizing your production of vitamin D
- Radically reduce eating all processed foods
Each of these helps reduce inflammation in your body. If you are fighting chronic pain, it is important to address the underlying issue in order to reduce your discomfort and improve your health. You may find it helpful to start physical therapy or visit a chiropractor to address challenges with posture, lower back pain, chronic headaches or hip and knee pain among others.
If you are currently suffering from chronic pain, you may find comfort knowing there are many natural, safe and effective alternatives you can consider rather than turning to over-the-counter and Rx drugs, check with your holistic healthcare provider.
Eat healthy, Be healthy, Live Lively