The Difference in Back Pain Among Men and Women

Category: Back Pain | Author: Stefano Sinicropi

female back pain

Research out of Norway suggests that more women experience chronic lower back pain than men. According to researchers, the reasoning behind the differences in gender pain may have to do with a gene variation that is more often expressed in women.

“In our study we were surprised to discovered that the same gene variant may actually promote chronic pain in women and suppress pain in men,” said Professor Johannes Gjerstad, a senior researcher at the Norwegian National Institute of Occupational Health.

Gender’s Role in Back Pain

For their research, Professor Gjerstad and colleagues examined nearly 300 patients who were suffering from a prolapsed disc in their spine. Patients were evaluated at the outset and again one year after leaving the hospital. They also examined the genetic structure of certain genes that offer different levels of variance between the sexes. Many of these genes come in multiple versions – an ordinary and a variant – and the goal was to see how these variants impacted back pain

After looking at the data, researchers uncovered:

  • Men were more likely to suffer a prolapsed disc, but they also recovered faster than women.
  • Women with the less ordinary gene variant often experienced twice as much pain as men who had the same gene variant.
  • One year after discharge, women with the gene variant reported an average pain of 4 on a scale of 1-10, while men averaged around 2.
  • Roughly 1 in 4 people, regardless of gender, carry this gene variant.

Researchers said the findings go a long way in helping explain why some people develop chronic pain after a prolapsed disc, while others don’t experience such extreme complications.

“We think that this OPRM1 gene variant is significant for long-term pain more generally, and we would like to investigate this further,” said Professor Gjerstad.

A Better Understanding

Professor Gjerstad added that his team wanted to get a better understanding of why gene variants have different effects on men and women. He concluded that the gene expression differences have a lot to do with how male and female brains perceive pain, and there are also environmental and psychosocial factors at play.

“The gene variant we have studied does not in itself cause chronic pain – nor is a man or woman who has this ‘unlucky’ gene variant doomed to suffer back pain,” concluded Professor Gjerstad. “Environmental factors such as psychosocial workload definitely play a role along with these genes.”

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