Survey and existing research reveal differences in pain management between genders

For many Canadians, December is the start of the holiday season and a time of joy and celebration, but for some, it can also be a time of increased aches and pains. Whether it's a backache from shoveling away the first snowfall, hanging holiday lights or a headache from the stress of holiday shopping, December brings a new set of aches and pains.

Not all of us experience pain exactly the same way. Headaches, for example, are a common form of pain, but research reveals that there may be differences in the way men and women experience and manage them.

The TYLENOL(R) Canadian Pain Survey conducted by Vision Critical, found that women report experiencing headaches more often than men, and that they experience somewhat more pain than men, which supports findings from existing research.

"Pain doesn't discriminate against gender; however, with headache pain, women tend to be more expressive in reporting their pain than men, and tend to be more proactive in managing it," says Dr. Gary Shapero, a Toronto-based family physician with a special interest in headache and pain management.


Existing research shows that women report more pain throughout the course of their lifetime, and experience pain in more bodily areas, more often and for longer durations when compared to men.

When it comes to tolerance, the TYLENOL(R) Canadian Pain Survey reveals that Canadian men and women consider themselves to have a relatively high tolerance to pain. Interestingly, research suggests that sex hormones may have something to do with tolerance to pain as estrogen plays a critical role in helping the brain's natural ability to suppress pain.(4) This may explain why women can deal with the excruciating pain of childbirth.


Women are much more comfortable discussing their health - talking with friends, reading magazines and visiting the doctor for women's health issues(5) - whereas men are less likely to seek help for their health. Men traditionally see their role to be a provider, to be in control and to be able to look after themselves. According to a recent report, men feel the need to "tough it out" when they are ill and see illness as a sign of weakness, negatively affecting their masculine image.(6)

The TYLENOL(R) Canadian Pain Survey also reveals that there are differences in how men and women manage certain types of pain, like headaches.(7)

In total, 90 per cent of Canadians used some sort of coping mechanism(s) to help manage the pain of their last headache; however, choosing bed rest (29 per cent versus 25 per cent) and massage therapy (6 per cent versus 4 per cent) for pain management skews somewhat towards females.(8)


No matter what time of year it is, or whether you're a man or a woman, aches, pains and headaches can wreak havoc on your work and personal life. The good news is that there are ways to reduce or ward off the pain. Dr. Shapero recommends the following:

- Avoid headache triggers, excessive alcohol, irregular sleeping and eating patterns and increased stress. - Keep your stress level low by staying organized and focused during the holiday season. - Manage your minor aches and pains by getting plenty of rest, using over-the-counter options, like TYLENOL(R) brand medication, and turning to heat or cold therapy when appropriate.

In fact, the TYLENOL(R) Canadian Pain Survey found that the most popular coping mechanism used by Canadians for headache pain management is over-the-counter medication such as those that are acetaminophen-based (used by 44 per cent), like TYLENOL(R).(9)

"Over the counter medicines and relaxation exercises are great for relief of mild to moderate headache pain, but if your headache persists, your best option is to talk to your doctor to establish a correct diagnosis and determine the best treatment option for you," says Dr. Shapero. "The same goes for any other type of pain."




The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News Medical.
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