Sex-related influences on pain and analgesia have become a topic of tremendous scientific and clinical interest, especially in the last 10 to 15 years. Members of our research group published reviews of this literature more than a decade ago, and the intervening time period has witnessed robust growth in research regarding sex, gender, and pain. Therefore, it seems timely to revisit this literature. Abundant evidence from recent epidemiologic studies clearly demonstrates that women are at substantially greater risk for many clinical pain conditions, and there is some suggestion that postoperative and procedural pain may be more severe among women than men. Consistent with our previous reviews, current human findings regarding sex differences in experimental pain indicate greater pain sensitivity among females compared with males for most pain modalities, including more recently implemented clinically relevant pain models such as temporal summation of pain and intramuscular injection of algesic substances. The evidence regarding sex differences in laboratory measures of endogenous pain modulation is mixed, as are findings from studies using functional brain imaging to ascertain sex differences in pain-related cerebral activation. Also inconsistent are findings regarding sex differences in responses to pharmacologic and non-pharmacologic pain treatments. The article concludes with a discussion of potential biopsychosocial mechanisms that may underlie sex differences in pain, and considerations for future research are discussed.
Perspective: This article reviews the recent literature regarding sex, gender, and pain. The growing body of evidence that has accumulated in the past 10 to 15 years continues to indicate substantial sex differences in clinical and experimental pain responses, and some evidence suggests that pain treatment responses may differ for women versus men.