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5 Articles in this Series
Breaking Down Barriers, Including Potential Trauma, When Treating Women in Chronic Pain
Key Goals, Including Healthcare Equity, Emerge from the Chronic Pain in Women Summit
Pain and Sleep: Why It Is So Crucial and How CBT May Help
Sex Differences in Pain Response Matter
Women in Chronic Pain Need More from their HCPs

Key Goals, Including Healthcare Equity, Emerge from the Chronic Pain in Women Summit

HealthyWomen CEO Beth Battaglino, RN-C, shares* her recap of the organization's first Chronic Pain in Women summit with PPM, and offers steps for moving forward the healthcare of women.

The HealthyWomen summit held in July 2019 in Maryland, aimed to advance and amplify current dialogue on the impact of chronic pain on women’s health, by convening leading experts in chronic pain science and treatment, policy experts from federal agencies and national pain advocacy organizations. Pain activists with personal knowledge of the devastation caused by chronic pain conditions also contributed their unique insights. HealthyWomen is thankful to these trail blazers for illuminating the elusive aspects of chronic pain with the bright spotlight it demands.


An unmistakable momentum fueled the summit from start to finish. I believe this energy in chronic pain research and practice management signifies a reckoning for chronic pain in women. Improved awareness, empowered patient voices and targeted research are reversing chronic pain’s status from “invisible” to “visible.”  Finally, chronic pain conditions and those who battle them, will get the attention they’ve long deserved.  Faster, more efficient and accurate diagnoses, innovative treatment and patient-centered management, ultimately, will end long-term suffering.

This will be a triumph for women’s healthcare because women bear a far greater burden of pain. Indeed, the prevalence of most common pain conditions (arthritis, back pain, headache, among others) is higher in women compared to men. In addition:

  • 70% of chronic pain patients are women.
  • Women’s life expectancy is reduced by one year for every 10 years spent with chronic pain.
  • Women with chronic pain are more likely to be treated with prescription pain relievers, like opioids, and at higher doses and for longer periods, than are men, putting women at greater risk for developing opioid use disorder.
  • While some research has addressed sex differences in pain management, perception and pain threshold, this progress has not translated to improved pain treatment for women (see Sex Differences in Pain Response Matter)
  • Sleep loss increases pain sensitivity and is a major risk factor for developing chronic pain, especially in women (see Pain and Insomnia: Using CBT as a Treatment).

The summit's keynote speaker Anita Gupta, DO, PharmD, MPP, a professor of anesthesiology at Rowan University School of Medicine and a senior vice president at Heron Therapeutics, issued a call to action that I am compelled to repeat. No stranger to the pain journey, Dr. Gupta shared her personal experience with treatment for a rare disease that has altered her approach to patient care. Like the World Cup-winning women’s soccer stars’ call for pay equity in their sport, it is time for “chronic pain equity” in women’s health, according to Dr. Gupta. No longer should women suffering from chronic pain caused by migraine, fibromyalgia, arthritis, debilitating complex regional pain syndrome, or pelvic pain conditions, such as endometriosis, be underserved.

There is no doubt that we still confront many challenges in the science and management of chronic pain. However, the following 10 highlights (and, it was hard to pick only 10) from the summit indicate to me that we are on the right path:

  1. More informed research about sex differences in pain likely will lead to pain medication and devices tailored specifically for men and women.
  2. Researchers and study proposal reviewers are now trained to ask questions and evaluate data with respect to biological differences important to understanding sex differences in pain and pain treatment.
  3. Because few drug trials are designed specifically to study women with pain, an opportunity exists to raise awareness about the importance of recruiting women for clinical trials aboutpain research.
  4. Innovative clinical approaches, such as motivational interviewing and functional pain inventories, can improve the patient-clinician dialogue and improve patient outcomes by setting goals for managing and living with chronic pain.
  5. Re-thinking treatment for opioid use disorder (OUD) to consider women’s unique health needs and family responsibilities will improve OUD treatment for women and replace current OUD treatment models based on treatment for men.
  6.  More data on women of color and women of color experiencing chronic pain will inform policy, begin to eliminate healthcare disparities and will lead to changes in healthcare delivery for all women.
  7. Working to eliminate the stigma associated with chronic pain—including self-stigmatization and inherent race and gender biases--will help to break down major barriers to accessing care and successful treatment (read also about Trauma-Informed Care).
  8. A key to understanding pain is understanding the robust individual differences in pain experiences. Pain management innovation cannot be “one-size fits all.”
  9. Pain research is getting better at measuring pain and increasingly more able to activate, isolate and study-specific cell types.
  10. The patient voice must be a partner in drug development, science and patient care.

HealthyWomen is proud to lead this call to action with our first summit on chronic pain in women. We will continue to connect women, their families and their healthcare providers with resources and model programs, such as the one established for women veterans at the VA Connecticut Healthcare Center, designed to overcome barriers to treatment and pain-free lifestyles.  And, we will continue to help women tell their stories about their journeys, providing hope for those for whom the journey awaits.


Read more highlights from the summit as reported by PPM. Plus, an update on endometriosis and what the Society for Women's Health Research thinks is needed.

*A version of this article was posted on the HealthyWomen.org blog. 

Next summary: Pain and Sleep: Why It Is So Crucial and How CBT May Help
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