The main quality associated with pain tolerance among patients and their adjustment to chronic pain is resilience, a person’s ability to overcome adverse circumstances, according to a new study carried out at the University of Málaga. The study shows that the effect of gender on pain tolerance is not as significant as previously thought.

Over the years various clinical trials have shown important gender differences with regard to susceptibility to pain through illness, effectiveness of medications and recovery after anesthetic. Additionally, these results are correlated with popular opinion, where it is often said that women tolerate pain better than men.

However, the new study dispelled this theory, revealing that these differences are minimal.

The reality is, in fact, quite the opposite. It is a person’s ability to overcome adverse circumstances that determines the high or low acceptance of pain, as it is related to a series of characteristics that provide the individual with resources to cope with chronic pain.

“More resilient individuals tend to accept their pain, that is, they tend to understand that their ailment is chronic and they stop focusing on trying to get the pain to disappear, to focus their energy on enhancing their quality of life, despite the pain,” Carmen Ramírez-Maestre, the main author and researcher at the Andalusian institution, said.

“In this regard,” continued Ramírez-Maestre, “patients who are able to accept their pain feel less pain, they are more active on a daily basis and have a better mood."

400 patients with chronic spinal pain, 190 men and 210 women, treated in primary care centers took part in this study.

Also, the findings showed that patients that feared pain also experienced significantly more anxiety and depression.

“However, this fear was only related to a greater degree of pain in the samples of men and this was the only difference found between the sexes,” concludes the author.

Carmen Ramírez-Maestre, Rosa Esteve. The Role of Sex/Gender in the Experience of Pain: Resilience, Fear, and Acceptance as Central Variables in the Adjustment of Men and Women With Chronic Pain. The Journal of Pain, 2014; 15 (6): 608 DOI: 10.1016/j.jpain.2014.02.006

Photo: Melanie Yeneralski, Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust. Wellcome Images

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