With increasing numbers of men and women serving in combat and risking traumatic injury and limb loss, a new study published in The Journal of Pain, the peer-reviewed publication of the American Pain Society, Glenview, Ill, concludes that self-reported amputation-specific pain severity is similar in men and women but there are considerable gender variations in overall pain outcomes, such as emotional health and pain-coping responses.

Although the medical literature has abundant information on gender differences in pain severity and coping, little is known on how men and women may differ in living with limb-loss pain, says the organization. Researchers from the University of Washington School of Medicine evaluated survey responses from 335 adults with amputated limbs to investigate sex differences in pain intensity, interference with daily activities, and pain-related coping. Study participants were asked about the presence of pain related to their amputated limbs and to rate their pain on a numeric scale.

The authors hypothesized that women would report greater amputation-related pain intensity and pain interference. Pain from limb loss can be phantom limb pain (painful sensations in the missing portion of the amputated limb) and residual limb pain (pain originating at the site or stump).

Results showed there were no significant sex differences in the reported presence or intensity of amputation-related pain. Female study participants, however, reported greater overall pain intensity (aside from the amputation site), more pain interference with daily activities, and higher levels of catastrophizing (anxiety about pain) than the male respondents. The researchers concluded these findings suggest women may be more vulnerable to the negative functional consequences of limb-loss pain. Moreover, women who have undergone limb amputation may exhibit negative psychological outcomes to a more significant degree than men.

The study concluded that understanding sex differences in limb-pain outcomes can help avert maladaptive pain coping and allow clinicians to help patients better manage pain and negative mood following amputation.

[Source: American Pain Society]