Are men more sensitive to pain than women?

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Are men more sensitive to pain than women?
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A stereotypical image of a man is someone who is strong, manly, who never cries and who never feels pain.  In contrast the women are meant to be weak, frail, sensitive and are upset over nothing.  It is crazy how many errors of judgement can exist in societal stereotypes!  However a Canadian team have carried out a study that reveals that men are in fact more sensitive to pain than women.  Their results appeared in the Current Biology journal. 

Understanding chronic pain

A Canadian team from research centre about pain from the University McGill have developed a new concept of understanding pain.  An experimental procedure allowed them to study chronic pain.

The International Association for the Study of Pain  defines chronic pain as a “pain that continues over and above the usual healing period (normally three months).  Moreover, while acute pain is usually the appropriate response to its cause (eg, healing after injury), this is not the case with chronic pain.”  Pain is often caused by a considerable change in behaviour or in the pleasure of living.

So as to better understand the underlying mechanisms of chronic pain, researchers put forward a hypothesis that suggested pain could be caused by a person’s memory.  In other words, memory and the context in which pain has arisen could lead to a hypersensitivity in a humans and in rodents.

Reins douleur
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Results that contradict stereotypes

During their experiment, researchers studied how both sexes were sensitive to pain.  The results go against traditional gender stereotypes about how we feel and a show pain.

Initially both men and women were submitted to a thermal nociceptive stimulus (a source of heat that causes slight pain)In this instance both men and women were similarly sensitive to pain.

At the second stage of the experiment the results started to change.  The participants knew how they were going to feel when the pain was inflicted on them.  Researchers noticed that men had a higher sensitivity to women during the second stage of the experiment.  Men report pain that is almost 20 points higher than the first step, while women see almost no change.

Is there a new way to understand pain?

Pain is not just physically felt

Pain sensitivity is explained differently by this new concept of understanding pain.  Here we can understand that pain is a feeling that is cause by different factors and not only determined by a biological fact.

Memory plays an important part in how we feel pain. In other words the memory of a type of pain and the situation that we felt it in can increase our sensitivity to the pain.  However this only seems to be the case for men and not for women.

The impact of memory on pain

However the memory of pain can also effect women however this still needs to be further investigated.  In their study, researchers remarked that while men dread pain, women seem to feel the pain less intensely. Women don’t seem to be as prone to the stress of anticipation that exacerbates pain in their male counterparts.

Hormones play a part

If seems to be the stress of anticipation and the fear of what will happen which increase our sensitivity to pain. According to the authors of the study, stress is related to testosterone when present in large quantities. Without this hormone, anticipation does not produce hypersensitivity to pain.

stress burn-out
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The moral of this study

The aim of this study was not to denounce the stupidity of a gender stereotype about how men and women feel pain.  The researchers really wanted to understand the functioning of a physiological mechanism such as chronic pain. That said, give up on your assumptions, men are more sensitive to pain than women.  It’s been proven!

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