Men and Women Experience Pain Differently, but We Don’t Know Why

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We have long known that women are more likely to experience chronic pain conditions like TMJ, migraine, and fibromyalgia. Recently, we have begun to appreciate that this is because men and women experience pain differently.

In surveys of pain levels using a 10-point scale, where 0 is no pain and 10 is the worst pain imaginable, women report pain levels a full point higher on average. In addition, when prescribed opiates, women typically need significantly more to achieve pain relief than men.

Researchers have proposed two different theories about why this might be. On the one hand, this might be because women’s brains interpret pain signals differently, leading to more central sensitization in women. Other researchers believe that the difference is in the peripheral nervous system. Since these two explanations have also been proposed for TMJ, the answer about the source of this difference could help improve the treatment of TMJ in the future.

Right now, evidence supports both theories, which means that there is likely no easy solution.

Men and Women Experience Pain Differently, but We Don’t Know Why

Different Brain Responses

Men and women do process pain differently in the brain. The differences relate to the role of cells known as microglia. Microglia monitor the central nervous system and help protect it from damage. When an injury occurs, these cells are released from the brain and spine in high numbers. In men, this is related to the way the central nervous system becomes hypersensitive to pain. In women, a different mechanism is used to create hypersensitivity. Instead, the microglia are much more active and seem to work to neutralize opioid pain relievers.

Differences at the Source of Pain

Other studies have focused on how males and females experience pain at the source of injury. This research has also revealed crucial differences that impact the way they feel pain.

A recent study looked at the response of different nerve cells to an injury. It found that when female mice experience an injury, more pain-inducing immune cells traveled from the site of injury to the spinal cord than in males. They found that this more intense peripheral pain response could be the cause of increased pain experience in women.

We Are Sensitive to Your Pain

Obviously, science can’t completely explain why women experience pain differently than men. But what we do know is that it’s different. We also know that not all pain differences can be easily broken down by gender–pain is a very individual, personal experience. When Nashville, TN, neuromuscular dentist Dr. Kent E. White treats patients, he treats them as individuals, and he understands that their pain is individual. He works hard to identify the unique causes of your individual pain and find a personal, drug-free nonsurgical treatment for you.

If you are experiencing TMJ symptoms and no one seems to be able to help, let us help. Please call (615) 383-6787 today for an appointment at the Center for Advanced Dentistry.