Battle of the Sexes in A Life of Chronic Pain
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The question is often raised whether it is men or women who are more susceptible to feeling pain. The actual amount of pain an individual is experiencing is difficult to assess because our interpretation of pain is extremely individual. Does it vary according to our sex? We have all been asked the question about our amount of pain according to the pain sliding scale. I know you’re all familiar with it. You remember the scale which starts with 1 and goes up to 10? The physician or his/her assistant usually asks you, on an office visit, where your pain is currently with number 1 being the least amount, 5 being in the middle and 10 being the worse pain you can experience.
I have always thought that pain scale to be a bit useless because it so greatly depends on your mood at the time, your fatigue and your concept of pain. It also depends on your relationship with your doctor and whether or not your experience has taught you whether he/she is listening to you or not. Different personalities, both male and female, react differently when asked about their pain. I’ve seen some individual’s resoundly and firmly reply to the question, “My pain is a 15.” For medical personnel this kind of reaction usually rings a bell of alarm and makes the patient look a bit hysterical. I can understand that reaction because I and I know you; have been in the position when you felt your pain was not being taken seriously enough by your caregiver. One can become desperate to get the point across but this is not the way to do it. Calm, rational explanations go a lot further to obtain help.
That overstatement would have to fit into the same category as crying. More women cry at the doctor’s office than men. That’s a social acceptance, allowing girls to cry and not guys, but it doesn’t really help with most physicians. There are, of course, the stereotypical responses to the differences in the sexes such as women weeping and expressing their feelings while many men are taught to “hold it in” and “take it like a man.” I don’t know that I’ve ever heard anyone tell a daughter to “take it like a girl.”
In the studies I read, there appears to be a difference between acute pain and chronic pain. I also found many diverse opinions on this subject and found it impossible to conclude, one way or the other, to say men or women suffer and feel pain more intensely. A study performed at the University of California at San Francisco on chronic pain in cancer patients, they concluded that men and women with painful bone metastasis reacted differently; however, the nurse heading the study, Christine Miaskowski, RN,Phd,FAAN, who was also UCSF professor of physiological nursing had some interesting conclusions. She states, “Although research suggests that chronic pain may occur more frequently in women in the form of migraines or joint pain, it doesn’t appear to be any more intense.” The researcher did find that pain interferes with sexual activity more with men than in women. In other ways relating to daily acts of life, such as walking, working, etc. the reactions were the same.
Another study I found on About.com by Erica Jacques which was conducted in September, 2009 concluded women are more likely to suffer chronic pain than men, but it was not an overwhelming conclusion. Their conclusions were that women are more likely to seek treatment than men. I know that’s definitely the case in our home. My husband once ran around for three months with a broken upper arm before getting it x-rayed. Fortunately, it was a non-displaced fracture and healed well.
It appears the differences between testosterone and estrogen play a role in this reaction to pain. Since estrogen levels for women vary monthly, affecting the release of endorphins, etc., it’s a difficult conclusion to reach. Since pain and depression are inexorably linked to each other, women are more culpable there due to varying hormone levels.
The old question of nature vs. nurture has to come into play in this issue. The Scientific American did a study using mice but it was fairly inconclusive since they are not humans. We human beings are exposed to the attitudes of our parents, our siblings and other factors of rearing a child. Societal and economic differences play a role in how we are treated and trained to react to pain and suffering. Some of us are petted and coddled when we are small. Others of us are ignored and reared with a more distant approach. In general, most of us would have to agree girls are more emotional but the question is, are they born that way or are they allowed to express more emotions than boys are? Most strata’s of society expect the male child to be more “manly.” I think I would have to conclude that we are all born with different personalities, whether male or female. So much of who we are depends on the actions and reactions of our parents and the society in which we were reared.
When I asked my husband, who is also an RN this question, I was surprised by his reaction. He said, “Well, some people just keep going, no matter what. Look at you.” I think he’s right. Perhaps it doesn’t really depend on our sex as much as it depends on the drive, the constitution and the “unknown factor” with which we are each born. It’s that “factor” that makes each of us who we are. Nature or nurture? How do you separate the two?
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