Worldwide, chronic pain is estimated to impact 1.5 billion people (American Academy of Pain Medicine [AAPM], 2012) and cost the United States over 600 billion dollars a year (National Institute of Health, 2016). However, it affects women at a disproportional rate. Two studies have argued lower pain thresholds in women may be to blame, which may be one explanation for the gender differences (As-sanie et al., 2013; Quartana, Finan, & Smith, 2015).
However, a closer examination of women’s health research reveals more concerns. Society is also at fault. The American Academy of Pain Medicine has some astounding facts shared through the document Chronic Pain in Women: Neglect, Dismissal and Discrimination, Analysis and Policy Recommendations from May 2010. Key findings argue:
1. Diagnosing women correctly and quickly is difficult
2. Several diagnoses related to pain are women-only diagnoses
3. Underfunding on diagnoses and understudying
4. Research gaps on evidence-based information for treatment
5. Women’s pain is taken less seriously by professionals and treated less aggressively
Moreover, clinicians also explain they are perplexed by women’s health concerns, especially in regards to chronic pain. In a male-dominated profession, it may be hard to relate. Clinicians feel less competent, and the end result is that women suffer with their chronic pain and a reduced quality of life.
When society overlooks women in any way, the ripple effect is far-reaching. Mental health diagnoses are linked to chronic pain such as depression, anxiety, and trauma (National Institutes of Health, 2016; American Psychiatric Association, 2013) along with economic burdens, such as disability and lowered productivity (American Academy of Pain Medicine, 2010).
As mental health professionals, here is what we can be aware of to help:
1. The bidirectional nature of pain
a. Pain impacts sleep, but lack of sleep also impacts pain
b. Pain can cause anxiety, and anxiety can cause more pain
2. Empathize with your client and allow them to teach you about their pain experience
a. Pain is a subjective phenomenon and can look different from person to person
3. Chronic pain follows a biopsychosocial model
a. Educate your client to consider all these aspects as influential in association to pain
4. Your client will experience many ups and down when it comes to their pain relief journey
5. Yoga and meditation are two effective non-pharmacological methods for chronic pain
a. Your role as a clinician in teaching small meditative strategies could make a difference in their pain!
American Academy of Pain Medicine. Chronic pain in women: Neglect, dismissal, and discrimination. 2010. Retrieved 12/08/16, from http://www.painmed.org/files/cecpw-policy-recommendations.pdf.
American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). Washington, DC: Author.
As-Sanie, S., Harris, R. E., Harte, S. E., Tu, F. F., Neshewat, G., & Clauw, D. J. (2013).
Increased pressure pain sensitivity in women with chronic pelvic pain. Obstetrics & Gynecology, 122(5), 1047-1055. doi:10.1097/AOG.0b013e3182a7e1f5.
Quartana, P. J., Finan, P. H., Page, G. G., & Smith, M. T. (2015). Effects of insomnia disorder and knee osteoarthritis on resting and pain-evoked inflammatory markers. Brain, behavior, and immunity, 47, 228-237. doi: 10.1016/j.bbi.2014.12.010.
U.S. Department of health and Human Services, National Institutes of Health, National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (2016). Chronic pain: In depth (NIH Publication No. D457). Retrieved from: https://nccih.nih.gov/health/p...
Dr. Kehiante McKinley is interested in the biopsychosocial aspects of chronic pain in women and using yoga and meditation. In addition, she trains therapists using applied psychological methods for pain, stress, and anxiety. She is an adjunct faculty member at Rasmussen University where she teaches psychology, and she is also a consultant, using her expertise as a psychological subject matter expert.