“If I lined up 10 men and 10 women and I took a hammer and broke their legs exactly the same, the 10 women would report more pain than men,” says Dr. Jon Levine, a UCSF rheumatologist who studies the causes and mechanisms of pain.
Researchers at Stanford think they may have hit on a new discovery – “women tend to report much more severe pain than men.” Their conclusion is that the belief that women have a higher tolerance for pain is nothing but a “cliche.”
How did they determine this? Lead author of the study, Dr. Atul Butte, and his team culled through more than 160,000 electronic medical records (I thought these were private?) and found pain scores for 250 medical complaints. They then narrowed it down to 11,000 patient records for 47 common illnesses. Where did the pain scores originate? Apparently, from this highly advanced Universal Pain Assessment Tool:
Really, up until #8, the faces all look ok. So, I can see why most women reported higher pain levels than men. First of all, going to a doctor for any woman is a luxury. Not a financial luxury, a time wasting, I need to pick up my kids, get them to soccer, feed them, help with homework and make sure they brush their teeth while I slip in a two hour trip to the doctor luxury. And, it’s not just moms that lack time, working women with and without children have to work harder than their male counterparts. They are essentially “prey animals” and they cannot at any time appear vulnerable, especially by taking a few hours off for a doctor’s visit. If a woman seeks medical treatment for herself, chances are that she is near death or simply cannot take the pain any longer.
Like most studies that focus on women, there is a conclusion drawn, but no reason given to explain the conclusion. In this case, no one is sure why women report higher numbers, “Of course, the fact that women report more pain overall doesn’t necessarily mean they have more or less tolerance to pain than men, Butte said, adding that his results have been the source of some lighthearted debate with his wife.”
Hmmm…I challenge the “lighthearted debate” notation. So what was the study meant to prove? Dr. Butte called it the “killer question,” “The killer question is: Do women actually feel more pain than men? That may be more philosophy than anything – how can we tell that for sure?”
Is that really the question we should be focusing on, whether or not women feel more pain? Perhaps the question the medical team should be asking is “why are we still using this archaic tool – a sheet of paper with six faces, each depicting a slightly modified grimace for each level of pain.” Really, 10 levels, 6 faces? Why not just small, medium or large or tall, venti or grande. Or better yet, let this study be a lesson that, as usual, men and women think differently. Here’s a Universal Pain Assessment Tool that I think makes much better sense. If women are expected to judge their own pain against some random image, we really need to see more than just a one dimensional face. Something like this:
As usual, researchers are drawing conclusions about women based on nothing more than unqualified data. It’s a number! Why did so many choose 8 and not 7? Who knows. For this study to provide any insight, researchers would have to interview every single respondent and ask why they chose one pain number over another.
How about funding a study that can give women answers to more important ailments, instead of measuring our interpretation of pain via cartoon characters.