Pain, a shared part of our human journey, is a universal dialogue of the body that alerts us to potential harm. Yet, isn't it curious that we, as women, often find ourselves at the sharper end of this dialogue, experiencing pain with greater intensity than men?
The statistics show HUGE gender disparities when it comes to various chronic health conditions.
Fibromyalgia: Women are indeed significantly more likely to be diagnosed with fibromyalgia than men. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), women make up about 80-90% of people diagnosed with this disorder, implying that women are approximately 4 to 9 times more likely to develop the condition.
Autoimmune Diseases: Women are disproportionately affected by many autoimmune diseases. According to the American Autoimmune Related Diseases Association (AARDA), of the estimated 50 million Americans living with an autoimmune disease, approximately 75% are women. This means women are three times more likely than men to be affected.
Migraines: Migraines also disproportionately affect women. The Migraine Research Foundation reports that women are 3x more likely than men to experience migraines.
Multiple Sclerosis (MS): According to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, women are 2-3 x more likely to have relapsing-remitting MS, the most common form of the disease.
We need to start asking why. This blog post covers the 3 main reasons why women feel pain more deeply than men and why its actually our secret superpower
1) Women have higher density nerve networks that evoke stronger reactions
Our susceptibility to pain is intricately linked to the nerve fiber density in our skin – our body's primary bridge to the outside world. But beyond being merely a physical barrier, our skin also serves as an energetic boundary between self and others. As women, we possess a profound sense of empathy, enabling us not only to feel our own emotions but also to resonate with the emotions of those around us. Our skin, rich with nerve endings, acts like an empathic barometer, absorbing and reacting to the myriad sensations and energies that we encounter daily. In essence, our skin is not just a protective layer but a vibrant sensor, reflecting our deep connection with the world and our unique sensitivity to pain. Our nerve fibres transmit sensory information including pain to our brain. Women have more dense networks than men - 34 nerve fibers per square centimeter of facial skin, nearly double the 17 found in men!
So, what does this mean?
Think of it as having twice as many 'roads' for pain signals to travel on. This greater nerve density can contribute to a heightened sensitivity to pain in women, providing a more detailed and amplified pain 'map' for the brain to interpret.
Hence, women's pain experiences may not only be more intense but potentially more detailed due to this denser neural network.
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2) Estrogen makes our pain receptors more receptive
Among the many hormones at play, estrogen, one of the primary female sex hormones, is a key performer. It has far-reaching effects beyond its well-known roles in reproduction and sexual characteristics - it also influences our moods, cognition, bone health, heart health, and, intriguingly, our perception of pain.
Now, how does estrogen sway our experience of pain?
To understand this, let's first appreciate that our perception of pain isn't just a simple signal transmission from the site of injury to our brain. It's a complex process influenced by a multitude of factors, including our hormones.
Estrogen can alter our pain perception pathways in a few ways.
1) Estrogen can modulate endogenous opioid peptides, our body's natural painkillers. In the low-estrogen phase of the menstrual cycle, these opioid levels drop, reducing our inherent pain relief system's efficiency and increasing our sensitivity to pain.
2) Estrogen can influence the functioning of pain receptors and neural transmission involved in carrying pain signals. Studies have suggested that lower levels of estrogen can make these receptors more responsive, leading to enhanced pain signal transmission and perception.
A 2016 study published in Pain Research and Management provided empirical evidence supporting this notion. The researchers reported that women experienced increased pain sensitivity during the low-estrogen phase of their menstrual cycle (typically the week before menstruation).
It implies that the ups and downs of our estrogen levels throughout the cycle can translate into fluctuations in our pain threshold, explaining why we may feel more pain-sensitive on some days than others.
So, ladies, our hormonal orchestra isn't just about the PMS blues or those insatiable chocolate cravings. It's an integral part of our pain experience, adding another layer to the complex tapestry of how we perceive and respond to pain.
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3) Our amygdala actives a stronger fear response
During a traumatic event, the amygdala flags the experience as emotionally significant, and this memory gets etched into our neural pathways.
This potent emotional memory can then trigger the body's stress response when anything reminiscent of the traumatic event is encountered, leading to the persistent fear and hyper-arousal seen in states of dissociation and PTSD. Interestingly, research suggests that the amygdala might work differently in women.
A study published in the Journal of Neuroscience (2012) found that women tend to show greater amygdala activity in response to negative emotional stimuli compared to men. This heightened activation might result in a stronger fear response, making the traumatic memory more potent and challenging to disassociate from the triggering event. Click here to explore my online course on healing dissociation.
Furthermore, the amygdala isn't isolated but interacts with other brain regions like the prefrontal cortex, an area responsible for regulating our emotions and inhibiting the amygdala's fear response. Research indicates that these regulatory connections might be less efficient in women, further exacerbating the fear response and making it more difficult to 'unlearn' or extinguish fear associations, a key factor in the development and persistence of PTSD. 🎧 Listen to: Shadow hunting and transmuting fear Practice to connect to your heart and emotional body Sexual arousal, fear and shut down
The Vital Importance of Somatic Trauma Healing Approaches for Women
Try my powerful somatic body mapping practice to get closer to the root cause. Reach out if you are ready to heal.
As women, our heightened pain sensitivity can leave us more vulnerable to chronic pain conditions. However, pain is not just a physical experience; it is deeply intertwined with our emotional and psychological state, often holding hands with past trauma.
This is where somatic trauma healing steps in as a potent approach to our well-being. Unlike conventional therapies that focus largely on the mind, somatic healing recognizes the body as an integral part of our emotional landscape.
It aids in releasing trapped trauma in our bodies, thus potentially alleviating chronic pain. As we cultivate a deeper connection with our bodies, we become more adept at recognizing and managing our pain signals. This holistic approach fosters resilience, empowering us to navigate our unique pain experiences with grace and strength. 🎧 Listen to: 13 min body scan Why your physical body is vital to your spiritual expansion 15 min practice for painful periods
Echoes of Mother Earth: How Women's Receptivity Shapes our Perception of Pain
In the grand narrative of life, women are often symbolized as the personification of Mother Earth – connected, nurturing, receptive, and deeply connected with the ebb and flow of life's rhythms.
Just as the Earth's web absorbs and reacts to the changes in its environment, we too, as women, are profoundly receptive. It's like we are wired with a deep empathic seventh sense that we can't turn off - the ability to feel. This is known as the science of interoception - we have an innate ability to feel and interpret our internal body's (and energy system) sensations.
We respond not only to the physical world but also to the emotional landscapes within and around us and energetic shifts in our families and in the collective.
This sacred receptivity, a cornerstone of our femininity and sacred healing power, can be both a source of profound strength and at times, some intense confusion or despair.
It heightens our awareness, allows us to empathize deeply, and connect intimately with our emotions and those of others. However, it can also amplify our perception of pain.
Just as the Earth bears the weight of environmental shifts, we too bear the weight of physical and emotional shifts within our bodies. Our profound interconnectedness, akin to the Earth's interconnected ecosystems, can result in a heightened perception of pain, transforming our sensory experiences into a vibrant tapestry of heightened sensitivity and depth.
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Conclusion: Pain is not merely "in our heads"
Navigating the world in our female bodies, it's essential we remember this: our experience of pain is not merely "in our heads" or an overreaction.
It's a complex tapestry woven from our unique neural pathways, hormone levels, mental health, and social conditioning.
It's as real and authentic as our own existence.
As science continues to unravel these intricacies, we edge closer to a world where personalized pain management isn't an elusive ideal, but a norm.
In the meantime, let's hold space for our experiences, acknowledging that our pain is valid, it's real, and above all - it's our own journey towards expression and healing. However, until that day arrives, let's acknowledge that our pain is valid, it's tangible, and above all, it's ours to express and heal from. If you're wrestling with pain, know that you're not alone in this struggle. If you feel ready to heal from chronic pain and embrace your feminine power and healing gifts, please reach out to me.
You might also like to read:
The benefits of somatic therapy vs talking therapy Somatic Therapy Exercises for Healing Trauma Why healing is a journey of feeling Healing trauma through deeper body-mind integration Migraines, Chronic Stress and Trauma Childhood Sexual Trauma and Endometriosis