Who Has the Higher Pain Tolerance – Women or Men?
Consider the Biological and Psychological Factors
There are a number of factors that contribute to an individual’s tolerance to pain. Most of the factors are either biological or psychological. Biological is the physical pain, i.e., the pricking of skin and psychological is the brain’s perception of the pain.
“Pain is both a biochemical and neurological transmission of an unpleasant sensation and an emotional experience,” says Doris Cope, MD, an anesthesiologist who leads the Pain Medicine Program at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. “Chronic pain actually changes the way the spinal cord, nerves, and brain process unpleasant stimuli causing hypersensitization, but the brain and emotions can moderate or intensify the pain.” Past experiences and trauma, Cope says, influence a person’s sensitivity to pain.
According to the American Pain Foundation, 76 million people report having pain lasting more than 24 hours. Persistent pain was reported by:
- 30% of adults aged 45 to 64
- 25% of adults aged 20 to 44
- 21% of adults aged 65 and older
A 2012 study of more than 70,000 patients indicates that women report more intense physical pain than men. As part of the study, for more than 250 similar diseases, women reported higher pain levels on a 1-to-10 scale than did men, with the reported difference approaching a full point for most ailments.
Researchers say it’s not clear whether women actually feel more pain than men. They only can conclude that women report feeling more pain. Women’s ability to tolerate more pain than men remains up for scientific debate.
According to Martin Grabois, MD, professor and chair of the department of physical medicine and rehabilitation at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, pain tolerance is influenced by people’s emotions, bodies, and lifestyles.
Here are several factors that can affect pain tolerance:
- Depression and anxiety can make a person more sensitive to pain.
- Athletes can withstand more pain than people who don’t exercise.
- People who smoke or are obese report more pain.
The most common type of chronic pain in the U.S. is back pain; the most common acute pain being musculoskeletal pain from sports injuries, says Grabois.