Ouch! Men have a higher pain threshold than women

tender pressure pointsIt’s a question that continues to cause friction between the sexes: who has the higher pain threshold? Now one of the most detailed investigations of its kind has reported that it’s men who have the higher threshold, but only at 5 of 12 of the pairs of pressure points investigated (thresholds were the same for both sexes at the other points).

Of course, a huge caveat looms over any research like this which requires participants to report subjectively when they are experiencing pain – for example, given gender expectations, men could just be holding out for longer before they admit to being in pain.

Notwithstanding that possibility, Esmeralda Garcia and colleagues used a device to apply pressure to 12 pairs of pressure points on the bodies of 12 men and 18 women. Nine of these pairs of points were the so-called ‘tender points’ used to diagnose fibromyalgia (see image), on each side of the body. The three remaining pairs of control points were on the palm, the lower leg and forearm.

As the pressure on these points was increased, the participants were asked to indicate when they first experienced pain, as distinct from unpleasantness or discomfort. Testing took place again after 15 minutes and then for a third time a week later.

Men showed greater pain thresholds at all three of the pairs of control points and two of the pairs of tender points. The researchers said the fact the presence of gender differences depended on pressure point location could explain why so much earlier research has produced inconsistent results, with some studies finding gender differences and others not.

There was also a gender difference in how pain sensitivity varied across the testing sessions. Both sexes showed lowered thresholds at the second testing session, but whereas this persisted to the final session among the women, the men’s sensitivity had by this time returned to baseline.

“It would be interesting to see if this pattern persists when the menstrual cycle of women is controlled for, which may have been one of the sources of the differences in the final session,” the researchers said.

Garcia, E., GodoyIzquierdo, D., Godoy, J.F., Perez, M. & Lopez-Chicheri, I. (2007). Gender differences in pressure pain threshold in a repeated measures assessment. Psychology, Health and Medicine, 12, 567-579.

Post written by Christian Jarrett (@psych_writer) for the BPS Research Digest.

Image credit: if you own the copyright on the above image please get in touch using comments.

10 thoughts on “Ouch! Men have a higher pain threshold than women”

  1. Why is it that every time a study comes out that shows men have any sort of advantage over women that the writer feels a need to temper the finding with sexist comments? In this case he writes that “…given gender expectations men could just be holding out of longer before they admit to being in pain.”

    Couldn't it be just as likely that given women's expectation, based on previous studies that showed women had higher thresholds for pain than men, that the women were actually holding out for longer before they admit to being in pain. I know that for my entire lifetime of 53 years I've always heard that women had the higher threshold for pain. It has always been considered common knowledge. Yet Christian Jarrett blithely ignored that in his rush to pin some sort of chauvinistic badge on men. Come on, sexism swings both ways, Chris, and you are showing yours.

  2. 53 years? Bigots and pointless commentors really do last through the ages.

  3. wow, no idea where anon's retarded posts came from, I agree K. Wegman, and the fact that these idiots thought your post was “Feminist” is laughable.

  4. speaking as a woman who has had numerous spinal operations with 8 levels fused, a brain aneurysm with 4 titanium stints, severe osteo-arthritis (that of a 90 year old), osteoporosis and have now been diagnosed as a spastic parapalegic, I can honestly say that I think not that any man would be as comfortable with the pain that I live in. My doctors have no idea how I manage to continue to live alone, manage my home and even stay happy. I come from a family and generations of very strong women in every sense of the word. All dealt with pain in different aspects of their lives. I guess we were the “Amazon Women”…..haha. But truthfully, all the training I have received regarding this in several pain management coursed taught at the Mayo Clinic by Dr. Lemons, indicate it is not by gender that people endure pain, it is by several things but certainly gender is a pure misconception.

  5. Totally agreed. I can almost see before me the authors of this blog shaking scared, every time they post one of the research papers that show some male advantage.

  6. Women rant about how much pain they can tolerate during childbirth for GENERATIONS and when when finally we men no longer have to listen to them, they get all upset :(.

    Childbirth is so painful for women because women are weak. If a woman felt the pain of being hit in the balls with a cricket ball should would probably die.

  7. You Dumbass! Imagine pushing a 6-10 lb cricket ball through your… well you know! I promise the pain you feel in your “balls” does not last for the hours or even days that women labor for child birth, but I am sure you would not know that as I am sure there is no woman willing to put up with your egotistical big head!

  8. This study is based completely on people reporting and/or rating their pain levels. This means that the data is unreliable. People lie. How many men said the pain was less than it really was? And how many women exaggerated their own pain? Truth is, we'll never really know, because it's different for everyone.

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