As physiotherapists we deal with pain. We see a significant proportion of our patients while they are in pain, and unfortunately some of the techniques that we employ bring about short term increases in pain levels in order to bring about an eventual recovery. Patients often pass comment on their pain threshold during treatment and often inquire whether males or females exhibit a greater level of pain tolerance?
Pain threshold is a completely subjective phenomenon. It reflects our perception of pain and when we are willing to report pain. When studied scientifically, research involves the documenting of both male and female self reported pain levels in response to painful stimuli. In this environment we know that females self-report pain at lower levels than males1. Previous researchers have suggested that males are less willing to report pain than females due to their perception of their gender role.
This is perhaps contrary to conventional opinion that females, for reasons of child birth etc. have higher pain thresholds than males. The very notion of pain threshold, being subjective, however is completely based on what people self report so its value in terms of assessing the extent of an injury, for example, is limited.
In my experience as a physiotherapist I can say that gender has far less an influence on how pain is reported in clinic than other factors such as past experiences with pain and injury, or family, social or even religious attitudes towards it. The perception of your degree of pain is far less valuable than the fact that you have pain in the first place. Once pain is present we know there is injury and it needs to be treated regardless of how that pain is perceived.
- Lowery, D., Fillingim, R.B., Wright, R.A. (2003). Sex Differences and Incentive Effects on Perceptual and Cardiovascular Responses to Cold Pressor Pain. Psychosomatic Medicine March/April 2003 vol. 65 no. 2 284-291.