- Experts used a short laser pulse on the arch of volunteers’ feet
- Men who were treated by a female ‘examiner’ had a higher pain threshold
Going for a painful medical procedure is never nice.
But if you’re a bloke, having a female doctor could actually make you feel less sore, new research suggests.
A series of studies have found men feel less pain when they are being treated by a woman compared to another man.
Experts from Lund University in Sweden recruited healthy volunteers who were stimulated with a short laser pulse in the arch of their feet.
They discovered that male participants who were treated by a female ‘examiner’ had a higher pain threshold compared to when they were treated by men.
A series of studies have found men feel less pain when they are being treated by a woman compared to another man (stock image)
This was true despite the fact that the male and female examiners involved in the study were dressed the same and used the same script.
A separate experiment required participants to press a button which emitted a weak electric current, and then release the button when they felt pain.
The tests were conducted twice – once with a male examiner and once with a female examiner.
As in the first study, the team found male participants could withstand more pain with a female examiner than with a male one – but this time the same was true for female participants.
A final experiment involved 245 patients in three different hospital wards. A female and male investigator asked the patients about their pain shortly after surgery.
Analysis revealed found that men, but not women, said they were in slightly less pain when asked by a woman.
Researcher Anna Engskov, a consultant in anaesthesiology and intensive care, said: ‘For the individual patient it can matter, especially given that the differences in pain where greatest when it hurt so much that the patients started asking for pain relief.’
Previous research has indicated that women may have more empathy, which in turn can be linked to silent communication – for example more smiles and more direct eye contact. But it is unclear whether this could explain the results.
Professor Jonas Åkeson, from Skåne University Hospital in Malmö, supervised the study.
He said: ‘This is the first confirmation of these results both experimentally in healthy individuals as well as clinically with newly operated patients.
‘Including the gender perspective when pain is evaluated can hopefully contribute to patients receiving even better care and pain treatment in the future.’
The research was published across several journals – the Biology of Sex Differences, BMC Anaesthesiology and German Medical Science.
WHAT IS PAIN? A COMPLEX MIX INVOLVING OUR WHOLE BEING
Health professionals use different terms for different types of pain.
- Short-term pain is called Acute Pain. An example is a sprained ankle.
- Long-term is called Persistent or Chronic Pain. Back trouble or arthritis are examples.
- Pain that comes and goes is called Recurrent or Intermittent Pain. A tooth ache could be one.
Pain signals use the spinal cord and specialised nerve fibres to travel to our brain.
Pain is never ‘just in the mind’ or ‘just in the body’ – it is a complex mix involving our whole being.
Source: British Pain Society