Women’s Pain Is Treatable, but Often Ignored

January 19, 2015 Updated: January 19, 2015

Women suffer unnecessary pain, according to the American Society of Anesthesiologists (ASA). Women’s pain is both ignored and improperly treated. From labor pain to menstrual pain, to sciatica, and to phantom pain after breast surgery, there are many effective treatments that some doctors are not aware of, according to Dr. Anita Gupta.

“I think there are multiple reasons why many women are not getting the attention they need for their pain,” she said. Some physicians are not aware of treatments that work, especially treatments beyond simple pain medication.

Women can assume they simply have to live with their pain, and they may not speak up about it to their doctors. Gupta is the medical director of the Division of Pain Medicine and Regional Anesthesiology at Hahnemann University Hospital and Drexel University College of Medicine. The ASA conducted a literature review and issued the Women’s Pain Update on Jan. 19, and Gupta was among the ASA experts who issued the review.

(American Society of Anesthesiologists)
(American Society of Anesthesiologists)

For example, some women who have had surgery as minor as a breast biopsy to see if a lump is cancerous later develop phantom pain, just like the phantom pain an amputee has. That phantom pain can be treated, yet many who have it do not even ask their doctors for help. “Oh, absolutely, that phantom pain is commonly untreated,” said Gupta.

A multi-modal approach works, she said. Acupuncture, biofeedback, medication, and injections, get the pain under enough control that the patient can take the next step: lifestyle changes, exercising, eating well. The goal is a good quality of life. Poor life quality, and limited activity, does not have to be endured.

“It’s amazing how we are not seeing awareness (of effective pain management)” said Gupta. “Even despite the multitude of treatments available, women just suffer.”

Some of the effective treatments are not exactly medical. A study of 156 women in labor had half of them listen to music during labor, while half did not, said Gupta. The music listeners reported that they felt less pain and fear than those who did not listen to music. They also needed less pain medication after giving birth. “Music is effective,” said Gupta.

So is rose oil. Women who had menstrual pain massaged rose oil on their abdomens. Others used almond oil, and others used nothing. The rose oil group reported much less pain than the others—not only that month but the following month.

Even despite the multitude of treatments available, women just suffer.
— Dr. Anita Gupta

Gupta and her colleagues hope both doctors and women will learn more about pain and pain treatment, beyond just drugs. “Most physicians are aware that opiates do treat pain,” she said. Yet they can be dangerous, and there are many other effective options.

“Simple nerve blocks, music, yoga,” are all examples of effective treatments for pain, according to Gupta.

She won a Compassionate Physicians Award in 2011, and she expressed that trait in her conclusion. “I’ve seen so many women that have been suffering for such a long time. There is help available.”


*Image of woman sitting in the field via Shutterstock