“The painful truth” - closing the gender gap in pain management 

Funding. Research. Innovation. Education.


Women’s health has progressed over the years, but there is still a long way to go.


Pain management is a blatant example of the enduring gender gap[1-2] we need to address.


Studies have shown that women experience and report more pain than men, yet they often receive less intensive and effective treatment. A study in an urban emergency environment demonstrated that women were significantly less likely to receive any analgesia, less likely to receive opioids, and waited a median of 16 minutes longer than their male counterparts with the same symptom and similar mean pain scores[3].


Gender differences in pain prevalence emerge during adolescence, and rates of pain conditions increase as girls pass through puberty. Despite this, women’s pain is more often dismissed and sometimes talked about as “emotional” or “psychogenic.” And is not always taken seriously, even when it could indicate a serious health problem. For example, stomach pain or abdominal pressure can be a signal of a heart attack for women. These are sometimes mistaken for heartburn, indigestion, or a stomach ulcer, leading to delays in diagnosis and treatment, which can have serious and sometimes fatal consequences.


Unfortunately, the normalization of pain in women’s lives has also played a role in this treatment gap. The French saying “Il faut souffrir pour être belle” (“one must suffer to be beautiful”) has been repeated to generations of girls, almost making pain a female “condition”, drilling women to accept it as necessary.


It is crucial to ensure that women can access information about appropriate pain management options and treatments. Untreated pain negatively affects mental health, and chronic pain is often associated with mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression, resulting in a low quality of life[4] We must take women’s pain management seriously and provide the necessary tools to address it.


To close the gap in pain management, a multifaceted approach is needed[1]. This involves knowledge about pain, the ability to talk about symptoms with an appropriate lexicon to aid diagnosis, and the motivation to treat. Organizations can help achieve this goal, starting with better self-care for women.

  • Building knowledge about pain management options: educating women about the range of pain relief treatments available, from natural ingredients to treatments for chronic pain. Such materials should also call out the potential side effects of each treatment,
  • Providing tools to engage around pain management for better diagnosis and more personalized treatment options. These could include tools to approach healthcare providers or pharmacists about pain management, whether supporting a woman who is about to deliver with pain management options or enabling a teenager to discuss the intensity of premenstrual pain.
    Fortunately, new solutions are also being developed by the tech industry to improve health with women in mind: coined by  a Danish entrepreneur, the term “Femtech” was first used in 2016. In just a few years, Femtech has grown to encompass all products, diagnostics, and services created to improve women’s health outcomes and challenge medical inequality. Femtech is also pushing the boundaries in pain management, for example for better management of menstrual cramps.
  • Moreover, to achieve behavioral change, we need motivation. Consumer health and wellness companies can encourage women to take pain management seriously by showing the broader benefits of pain management on mental health, social interactions, cognitive function, or the ability to sleep and exercise.

In conclusion, women deserve more information, tools, and better access to pain management options.


As a lead member of The Weber Shandwick Collective’ Women’s Health I endeavor to uncover health gaps and support organizations to close these gaps for good. A woman’s strength shouldn’t be measured by how much pain she can bear, but by the value her full – healthy – self brings to her family, community and society.








1 – Casale R, Atzeni F, Bazzichi L, et al. Pain in Women: A Perspective Review on a Relevant Clinical Issue that Deserves Prioritization. Pain Ther. 2021;10(1):287-314.




2 – Bimpong K, Thomson K, Mcnamara CL, et al. The Gender Pain Gap: gender inequalities in pain across 19 European countries. Scand J Public Health. 2022;50(2):287-294.




3 – Chen EH, Shofer FS, Dean AJ, et al. Gender disparity in analgesic treatment of emergency department patients with acute abdominal pain. Acad Emerg Med. 2008;15(5):414-418.




4 – Gormsen L, Rosenberg R, Bach FW, Jensen TS. Depression, anxiety, health-related quality of life and pain in patients with chronic fibromyalgia and neuropathic pain. Eur J Pain. 2010;14(2):127.e1-127.e1278.