Women are more likely to feel aches and pains than men, but women are better at coping, recovering and not letting such physical afflictions upset their lives, researchers say.
Studies presented Tuesday at a National Institutes of Health conference found that the ability to deal with pain gives women a strength denied to suffer-in-silence males.A study of men and women who had arthritis, a common disorder of aging that affects both genders, found that women tended to have a keener sense of pain than men, but that men were more apt to let the discomfort sour their mood.
"Women reported 40 percent more pain than men, but women coped better with it," said Dr. Francis Keefe of Ohio University. He's the author of a study of pain in 99 women and 48 men suffering from arthritis.
Women, said Keefe, tended to regard pain as a call to action and took measures to overcome the discomfort or to relieve it through what he called "emotional coping." This coping included distracting activities, venting emotions, seeking support of others and finding comfort in prayer.
Men used fewer such coping skills and, in the long run, suffered more.
After a day of arthritis pain, said Keefe, "men have a greater carry-over of negative mood. Women are less likely to report a negative mood," meaning that they have more quickly recovered from the emotional effects of the pain.
Women's keener perception and vulnerability to pain, in the long run, "gives them greater strength," said Dr. Karen Berkley, a Florida State University pain researcher.
"Their tendency to identify pain and to do something about it is greater," said Berkley. "This is a positive thing. It (the tendency) puts women in the condition of being able to mobilize ways to cope and to conquer pain."
For instance, said Berkley, women are more apt to prepare for the pain they know is coming from childbirth or surgery and seek solutions in advance. They learn to cope with techniques such as relaxation or distraction or by seeking expert help.
Men, however, tend to wait and get ambushed by pain and then cope poorly.
"A man tends to say `it's going to hurt, but when I get to it, I will deal with it,"' said Berkley.
These gender differences disappear, she said, when a serious, painful disease, such as cancer, takes hold.