Do women really have a higher pain threshold?

The experience of pain is influenced by previous experiences, beliefs or the sociocultural environment

If we all think about pain, it comes to mind that women always have a higher pain threshold than men, who as a general rule tend to complain more. But there are differences in terms of pain if we are based on sex.

In an interview with Infosalus, Dr. Concha Pérez, head of the Pain Unit of the Hospital Universitario de la Princesa (Madrid) and vice president of the Spanish Society of Pain (SED) tells us that among the differences that we can find between pain in women and pain in men would be the frequency of the appearance of pain: “From puberty, it is much more frequent in women than in men. This already marks a difference throughout the biographical evolution by gender, which we can not forget”.

Furthermore, the specialist points out that, “obviously” there are other peculiarities in the ways in which women and men experience pain in different ways, and that they are linked to different cultures, beliefs, and different experiences and that, therefore, not they can be generalized.

Here it stands out that it is not true that women have a higher pain threshold than men. “It is very common to say that phrase of ‘if men gave birth to the human race it would be extinct’, but there is no scientific basis for this statement. In principle, women have more pain, with lower tolerance and threshold, ” he warns.

Furthermore, Dr. Pérez points out that there are studies that speak of the response as models of stress to pain being greater in women than in men. However, according to the specialist at the Hospital La Princesa de Madrid, the perception of pain is “absolutely individual”, and does not depend on gender. Of course, it maintains that different experiences, different thresholds, and different reactions influence the same pain stimulus. “The reason is that in the experience of pain a very important part is the previous experiences, beliefs, the socio-cultural environment, and the moment in which it happens to you,” the pain expert emphasizes.

As for why pain is different in women than in men, the vice president of the SED emphasizes that all the differences are unknown, but factors that are not fixed are excluded (for example, in which culture you live, or your beliefs religious, among other aspects), and says that there is clearly a hormonal factor that, among other things, is linked to estrogens, which explains why the differences begin after puberty.

She also says that there are the immunological differences between both sexes, which are indirectly related to hormonal changes and the response to different drugs. “This is extremely important for the advancement of new treatments where from basic science (experimental) to clinical it is essential to investigate not only in men or women but in both”, highlights the expert.
Do women respond to pain differently from men? Dr. Pérez indicates that there is no clear difference in the response by gender, but there is an important difference due to genetics (what your parents give you genetically can cause you to develop pain symptoms or to express yourself more) and experiences. “In this sense, we are not talking about painful experiences only from puberty, which is when the main difference begins, we are talking about experiences from 18-20 weeks in utero. It is known that fetuses who have had painful experiences during this period are future adults with much more prevalence of chronic pain, “he adds.

Pathologies that cause pain


Ultimately, the vice president of the Spanish Pain Society lists the pathologies that most frequently cause pain in women, and in men respectively: ” In general, women have a higher prevalence of all pain . than to opt for pathologies much more prevalent in females, we would say headaches and fibromyalgia and, in men, cluster headaches “.

In his opinion, it is important to bear in mind that the development of many pain conditions will come according to our biological perspective. For example, it indicates that pain secondary to lung cancer was typical of men in the past, and has now changed with the increase in female smokers.

“The same can be said of low back pain in which depending on your sports, health, and back hygiene habits you will have a higher or lower prevalence, regardless of gender. Before it was more frequent in men associated with certain jobs, but this will depend on each personal situation “, highlights Dr. Concha Pérez.

Ultimately, the head of the Pain Unit of the Hospital Universitario de la Princesa asks not to stigmatize either women or men who suffer from pain since, “unfortunately”, in both senses, it is very frequent.

On the other hand, she believes that it would be important to prevent pain in both genders, learn from school a way to prevent and modulate it. ” This would really change the world paradigm because when talking about the pain it seems that it is only a symptom or expressions such as ‘what nonsense’, ‘it is a complainer’, but the pain is the first cause of disability in the world, and it is for men and women, “says the vice president of the SED, Dr. Concha Pérez.