Sometimes it wakes you in the middle of the night, and other times you feel like you can’t remember NOT being in pain. Millions of women are shattered by the impact of chronic pain. Studies even show that 70% of all recorded pain is experienced by women.
While the exact reason for this difference hasn’t been pinpointed yet, biology and hormones are suspected to play a role. There are dozens of conditions that can cause chronic pain in women—hormone imbalances, puberty, reproductive status, menstrual cycles, and genetics are all key players.
Chronic Pain’s Deep Connections
Given chronic pain is at epidemic proportions for women, many are put on a pharmaceutical diet offering dwindling returns of respite, while most have tried everything under the sun in pursuit of even just a little relief.
But one of the biggest problems is that research behind why women tend to experience pain more of the time and more intensely than men is still lacking—80% of pain studies have been conducted on male mice or human men. Some women have even been labeled “chronic complainers” simply because there has not been enough research done into the pain felt specifically by women.
It’s not surprising then, that many over-the-counter medication and pain relief options don’t work as well for women as they do for men. While further research continues to ramp up, here’s what some of the research can tell us about the most common places are that women are currently experiencing chronic pain:
When you have chronic headaches that don't have a known cause, the everyday pain and frustration are both mentally and physically draining. Women are more likely than men to suffer more intense, and longer-lasting, skull-crushing headaches. And to add to the fun, women also are more likely to have associated symptoms like nausea and vomiting.
What Can You Do? If you’re anything like most people, Advil is probably the first thing you reach for, but when it comes to headaches, prevention is key. Maintain good posture, and move around during the day, stay hydrated, get enough sleep, and make sure you take regular breaks from electronic devices.
Musculoskeletal pain is pain that affects the muscles, ligaments & tendons, and bones. This includes back pain, whole body pain, fibromyalgia and osteoarthritis. As women age (gracefully, of course!), they tend to experience more compression fractures, vertebral changes such scoliosis, loss of bone mass and osteoarthritis. This also puts women at a higher risk of breaking bones.
What Can You Do? We don’t subscribe to the belief that these kinds of changes are an unavoidable part of aging. Most musculoskeletal pain is due to inflammation in the body—so if you can treat the inflammation naturally and bring your body back to balance, you can simultaneously help the restorative process.
Have you ever been to a yoga class where the instructor has said that the hips and pelvic areas are where women hold all their emotions? Food for thought, and perhaps not surprising that it’s a common place of chronic pain (plus have you ever tried to stretch the hips and pelvis...ouch!). Chronic pelvic pain is pain in the area below your bellybutton and between your hips and if usually not in a single spot, but rather sweeps over entire sections of that area.
What Can You Do? In the past decade, hundreds of studies have been conducted looking at the role of meditation and its effect in treating and lowering chronic pain. Start to understand your habits, tendencies, the way you relate to pain, and how you might play a role in increasing (and decreasing) its intensity.
Roughly 80 percent of people experience acute low-back pain at some point and for 20 percent, the pain becomes chronic. Causes can include stress or injury from sprains, overloading, obesity, and pregnancy, plus wear and tear due to age, or due to bone thinning or spinal nerve damage. One of the reasons women experience more back pain than men may be due to the behavior of a certain gene—a variant that promotes chronic pain in women while suppressing pain in men (go figure!).
What Can You Do? The American College of Physicians recently issued new guidelines that advise practices such as yoga and guided relaxation instead of potentially addictive opioids. And for some major T.L.C.—consider getting a CBD massage and adding natural pain relief to compliment your massage or stretch session.
We know that there are deep connections—both emotional and biological—between chronic pain and the mind, and while it might start in the brain, what we know is that your pain is very real—it's not all in your head. Plus, the way women’s brains communicate with their bodies is different from how men's bodies and brains interact—women experience more chronic pain overall due to how their brains are wired.
We get it, living with chronic pain is so tough—it’s like a companion you wish wasn’t so loyal and it can also be very hard to communicate to others given it’s such a personal experience. But don’t give up—there are things (like we’ve listed above) that you can do to ease the strain and impact.
Plus—take heart in the fact that, more recently, research has been expanding into figuring out how and why the overall pain experience differs from women compared with men (finally!). More research plus savvy women investigating natural alternatives from all angles of their life can only be a positive step forward for women receiving the best treatment and starting to remove the clutches of chronic pain for good.