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Are women more sensitive to pain?

July 19, 2012 by Steven M. Gursten

How chronic pain affects women, and why attorneys must understand the difference between men and women who are injured in car accidents

Chronic pain cases are often misunderstood by personal injury attorneys. Gender differences are exploited by defense medical examiners, and used by defense insurance lawyers in car accident cases as a way to blame the victim, or argue that the pain is really in her head, is malingering, is secondary gain, or from a somatoform pain disorder. It’s an ugly game, and as a lawyer helping people injured in car accidents for nearly 20 years, I see it being played nearly every week.

One problem is that chronic pain is often believed to be more of a psychological injury instead of a physical injury. This poses a problem for accident victims injured in states like Michigan, as physical injuries and psychological injuries are treated very differently under our auto accident law. For example, Michigan requires that an injury from a car accident be “objectively manifested” – and that poses serious problems for people with multifactorial injuries that include emotional and psychological overlay.

When injury lawyers fail to meet the “objective manifestation” prong to establish a serious impairment of body function – which is the threshold that car accident injury victims must meet in my state – many people with very serious injuries lose their right to bring a pain and suffering lawsuit.

But here’s the real tragedy for those people who lose their right to bring a lawsuit: chronic pain and resulting emotional and psychological injuries really are a physical injury, too. I recently blogged about how there’s proof that chronic pain can be considered a physical injury: The horrifying, often overlooked consequences of chronic pain.

Now there’s information that specifically addresses women and how they process pain. This puts an interesting twist on chronic pain and female car accident victims that must be understood by personal injury attorneys.

According to a New York Times story, women are the more sensitive sex to pain. The story sites new research from Stanford University suggesting that even when men and women have the same condition, “whether it’s a back problem, arthritis or a sinus infection — women appear to suffer more from the pain.”

The study, published in The Journal of Pain, analyzes data from the electronic medical records of 11,000 patients whose pain scores were recorded as a routine part of their care. For 21 of 22 ailments, the researchers found that women reported higher levels of pain than men — about 20 percent higher.

Sadly, the information didn’t offer any signs as to why women reported the higher pain levels. One unfortunate reason for the lack of information about sex differences, according to the story, is that many pain studies (humans and animals) are performed only on males.

This study calls for the need for more pain research on women. I previously wrote a blog about the safest cars for women, and the same issue being raised of women being ignored in the research. There is little research on car safety for women, because car companies have only been using male model crash test dummies for decades.

Why in the world are women routinely being ignored – whether it is studies on pain and injuries or on car safety? This pain study shows why chronic pain is a debilitating physical injury, and why female car accident injury victims may experience pain very differently than men.

Accordingly, when a notorious insurance company doctor does his one-time, 15-minute exam and then testifies there is nothing wrong with you, and you should be better because he is relying on a study done of male crash test volunteers in their early twenties, there may be more to the story.

The issue of chronic pain and female car accident victims must be specifically considered in car accident lawsuits by lawyers, and by medical doctors as to gender-specific treatment protocols and care needs.

– Attorney Steven M. Gursten is head of Michigan Auto Law. He is president of the Motor Vehicle Trial Lawyers Association and has received the highest verdict or settlement for a car or truck accident case in 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2011, according to Michigan Lawyers Weekly.

Michigan Auto Law exclusively handles car accident, truck accident and motorcycle accident cases throughout the entire state of Michigan. We have offices in Farmington Hills, Sterling Heights, Ann Arbor, Grand Rapids and Detroit. Call (800) 777-0028 or to speak with one of our attorneys.

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