Women, when it comes to pain, don’t just grin and bear it. Plenty of treatments have been shown to work.
A new research review found that many remedies were available for all kinds of pain. Some problems that are specific to women — such as pain after childbirth or breast cancer surgery — could be helped by a variety of therapies that include music, yoga and rose oil.
The American Society of Anesthesiologists (ASA) conducted this review of pain management techniques to raise women’s awareness on the subject.
“I can’t tell you the number of women I see who have been told they just have to live with the pain,” said review author Donna-Ann Thomas, MD, a member of the ASA’s Committee on Pain Medicine, in a press release. “It’s just heart breaking because many of these women have been suffering a long time. Women, especially older women, are less likely to speak up and seek treatment for their pain."
Dr. Thomas noted that women who have phantom pain — pain that occurs after a body part like the breast is removed — may not receive appropriate treatment.
“It’s fairly clear-cut when someone has phantom pain after a limb amputation, but it’s often overlooked when a woman has the same pain after a mastectomy or lumpectomy and she suffers unnecessarily,” Dr. Thomas said.
Doctors who specialize in pain management include anesthesiologists, and they are specially trained in many therapies that could include medications, injections, biofeedback, acupuncture or herbal medicine. Pain management specialists try to get pain under control so patients can be more active and manage their daily activities.
Dr. Thomas and team assessed several studies on pain in women. In some cases, alternative therapies — like a rose oil massage for menstrual pain and yoga for back pain — worked well.
In one study, women who had menstrual pain massaged their stomachs. One group used almond oil, one used rose oil and one used no oil. By the second session, the women using rose oil reported less pain.
Another study found that 12 weeks of yoga helped women with back pain. After the 12-week program, the women reported nearly three times less pain than when they started the program.
One of the studies Dr. Thomas and colleagues reviewed found that certain types of anesthesia were more effective for women than others.
Women who had a nerve block (which blocks nerves' ability to relay pain to the brain) and regional anesthesia for breast cancer surgery did better than women who had general anesthetic. Regional anesthesia is targeted to one part of the body and doesn't usually cause a loss of consciousness. General anesthesia targets the whole body and usually causes the patient to lose consciousness. The first group had less pain after surgery and took less pain medication. They were also less likely to feel nauseous or vomit, and they left the hospital earlier.
Music may play a part in pain management for women, too. One of the studies Dr. Thomas and team reviewed found that women who listened to music during labor had less pain — and their babies had better heart rates.
Opioid pain medications like morphine and codeine are often used for pain. However, when you’re pregnant, opioids should be a no-no, as they’re not good for the baby, Dr. Thomas and team noted. These researchers found that 1 in 7 women received opioids while pregnant, usually for back pain.
The ASA published this review in January on the ASA website.
The ASA did not note funding sources for the various studies or comment about conflicts of interest.