It’s been known for quite a long time that women experience pain in different volumes, and perhaps in different ways, to men. The gendered nature of pain is an intriguing thing; it seems that women and men have biological responses that encode how much pain we experience, what kinds of things might dim that pain, and our proneness to pain-related illnesses. And now we’re on the threshold of new therapies that may address a particular aspect of why women experience more chronic pain, located in an odd place: the immune system.
We tend to think of pain as just contained in the nerves, spinal cord, and brain, but it’s actually a hugely complicated business, and its interactions with a particular part of the body’s immune arsenal are the target of new studies. The particular focus of the research that’s just come out, from scientists at Georgia State, was on the fact that female bodies respond so remarkably differently to opioids, and whether or not this had something to do with immune response (spoiler: it did); but as we’ll discover, that particular discovery is just part of a swathe of emerging understandings on how pain is gendered and why.
Pain imbalance may one day be a thing of the past, but to understand how that might happen, let’s get into a discussion about pain, morphine, the female body, and a really aggravating part of the immune system.