Sex differences in experimental pain among healthy children: a systematic review and meta-analysis

Pain. 2014 May;155(5):983-993. doi: 10.1016/j.pain.2014.01.031. Epub 2014 Feb 6.


Sex differences in response to experimental pain are commonly reported in systematic reviews in the adult literature. The objective of the present research was to conduct a systematic review and meta-analysis of sex differences in healthy children's responses to experimental pain (e.g., cold pressor, heat pain, pressure pain) and, where possible, to conduct analyses separately for children and adolescents. A search was conducted of electronic databases for published papers in English of empirical research using experimental pain tasks to examine pain-related outcomes in healthy boys and girls between 0 and 18 years of age. Eighty articles were eligible for inclusion and were coded to extract information relevant to sex differences. The systematic review indicated that, across different experimental pain tasks, the majority of studies reported no significant differences between boys and girls on pain-related outcomes. However, the meta-analysis of available combined data found that girls reported significantly higher cold pressor pain intensity compared to boys in studies where the mean age of participants was greater than 12 years. Additionally, a meta-analysis of heat pain found that boys had significantly higher tolerance than girls overall, and boys had significantly higher heat pain threshold than girls in studies where the mean age of participants was 12 years or younger. These findings suggest that developmental stage may be relevant for understanding sex differences in pain.

Keywords: Children; Experimental pain; Meta-analysis; Sex differences.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Age Factors
  • Child
  • Female
  • Healthy Volunteers
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Pain / physiopathology*
  • Pain Measurement
  • Sex Characteristics*
  • Sex Factors