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Is Back Pain Sexist?

Men vs Women Back Pain

I promised to write this article after asking Twitter users whether they thought back pain was more common amongst men or women.The responses were surprising, with a rush from each gender to take the title as the most afflicted by back pain. This says a lot about societal attitudes to pain, which is a fascinating topic for exploration at a later date.

To put the issue to bed, it seems that, as a population, women experience more back pain than men do.

The reasons for this are complex and subject to debate.

Studies have highlighted greater numbers of nociceptive, or pain carrying, nerve endings in women. But this is only a small piece of the picture, as this finding does not help understand how information from those nerve endings is processed in the brain.

More difficult to study is the relationship between day-to-day activities and back pain. Different working and sporting roles place differing demands on our spines and could partially explain the difference in back pain prevalence between men and women.

Approximately 1% of previously asymptomatic individuals report sciatica during pregnancy. This is often attributed to naturally increased fluid retention putting pressure on nerves as they exit the spine.

That said, well-described anatomical differences between the sexes provide more definitive explanations for why women appear to experience more back pain.

A wider pelvis means more side to side movement on walking, placing strain on the lower back and hips, and weight in the bust results in sustained work for muscles in the upper back and potential for postural changes.

Of course, a wider pelvis and a bust are adaptations to facilitate child-bearing, which brings us to one of the major causes of back pain amongst women; pregnancy and child birth. It is estimated that 50% of previously asymptomatic women report back pain at some point throughout pregnancy.

None of these factors means that women must suffer through back pain. Heightened risk factors can be mitigated by increased preventative measures.

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