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Why do more women than men have chronic pain?

By The Health News Team | July 26, 2023
Woman on couch experiencing back pain

Pain is rarely welcomed, but it does have a purpose. Pain protects the body from injury by sending a signal that reminds us to care for it, especially when it’s already injured. Pain also aids in repairing injuries.

“Pain involves a complex interaction between nerves, the brain and the spinal cord,” Dr. Tania Faruque, an interventional pain management doctor with Sharp Community Medical Group, says. “It’s a natural process that is critical for life.”

According to Dr. Faruque, there are two types of pain: acute and chronic. Acute pain develops suddenly and tends to be sharp. It is relieved when the underlying cause has been treated. Chronic pain lasts longer than three months. It can be dull and aching and may come and go.

“Chronic pain may continue even after an injury has healed or an illness has been treated,” Dr. Faruque says. “Sometimes, it might be hard to identify the original cause of the pain.”

Chronic pain, Dr. Faruque says, can also lead to additional physical symptoms, including:

  • Tense muscles

  • Limited mobility

  • Low energy levels

  • Changes in appetite

Additionally, chronic pain can affect a person’s mental health. Anxiety, depression, anger and fear regarding re-injury may be experienced by people with chronic pain.

Women and pain

While people of all ages and genders experience pain, women are generally more likely to experience chronic pain than men, Dr. Faruque says. This can be due to fluctuating hormones; an increased number of nerves in the female body; loss of bone strength and density as one ages; and an increased sensitivity to the emotional toll of pain.

“Women tend to focus more on the emotional impact and the stress caused by chronic pain,” say Dr. Faruque. “Stress is known to intensify pain that is already there. Men tend to focus more on physical sensations only, which may make coping with pain easier.”

Treating chronic pain

Common sites of chronic pain include the back, head, joints and nerves. And according to Dr. Faruque, there are minimally invasive treatments specifically designed to block the transmission of pain signals or permanently correct the problem causing pain. Such treatments can provide pain relief while reducing or eliminating the need for surgery or a reliance on pain medications.

Treatments for chronic pain may include:

  • Medications and injections

  • Physical therapy

  • Nerve blocks

  • Acupuncture

  • Platelet rich plasma injections

  • Treatment of contributing conditions

“My job as an interventional pain management specialist is to diagnose and treat acute and chronic pain conditions,” Dr. Faruque says. “I then conduct appropriate procedures; prescribe and manage the right types of medications; coordinate additional care, such as physical therapy, acupuncture and nutrition counseling; and educate you on what you should and should not do to get better and stay better."

Lifestyle changes that can help

Dr. Faruque also advises her patients experiencing chronic pain to make efforts to manage stress and find support. Exercise and maintaining a healthy diet and weight are crucial. Exercise helps release endorphins, which help to block pain signals; and helps reduce inflammation; increases the flow of blood and oxygen to inflamed muscle; and increases mobility.

Strength training-focused physical therapy programs are particularly effective in improving overall mobility, balance and physical function, she says. And low-impact exercises, such as tai chi and aqua-aerobics, improve balance and function when performed on a regular, consistent basis.

“Most causes of chronic pain can be treated, especially when care is sought during the early course of your pain,” Dr. Faruque says. “The body has the natural ability to heal itself without surgical intervention. Noninvasive interventional procedures can reduce your pain and accelerate healing. When combined with regular exercise, a healthy diet, quality sleep, reduced stress and connections with others, your health and well-being can be restored.”

Talk with your doctor about whether an interventional pain management specialist might be necessary to help relieve your pain. “Our main goal is to get you to the highest level of function and independence possible, while improving your overall quality of life — physically, emotionally and socially,” Dr. Faruque says.

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Dr. Tania Faruque

Dr. Tania Faruque


Dr. Tania Faruque is an interventional pain management doctor with Sharp Community Medical Group.

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