The pain thresholds of men and women has for a long time been a contested issue, but when it comes the types of pain experienced it seems that it is women who are more likely to have suffered from a variety of ailments. New research from Mintel reveals that over the past 12 months*, just 6% of women said they had not experienced any type of common pain** compared to 16% of men. What’s more, a third (34%) of women say they have experienced five or more different types of pain in the last 12 months versus just 27% of men.

Of the ailments suffered, overall three quarters (74%) of all adults have experienced a headache/migraine over the past year, making this the most common type of pain. And, while women’s night-time headaches might be something of cliché, the research confirms that women (81%) really do suffer more headaches than men (68%). The same is true of back pain, the nation’s second most common type of pain, with 57% of women having suffered back pain in the last 12 months, compared to half (50%) of men.

Jack Duckett, Consumer Lifestyles Analyst at Mintel said:

“Our research shows that women are notably more likely to experience most types of pain than men, as well as experience a greater range of pains. Whilst men are becoming more active in the home, women continue to take the lion’s share of household responsibilities putting them at a greater risk of back ache, not to mention menstrual cycles and pregnancy.”

However, whilst ‘man flu’ is every woman’s nightmare, the same research reveals that it is the nation’s women, and not men, who are more likely to take to their beds when they are struck down with a cold or flu.

When consumers who had experienced a cold, cough, flu or sore throat over the past year were asked about their typical behaviour when they suffered any one of these ailments, just 44% of men said they got more sleep/rest compared to 57% women. Meanwhile, 31% of women said they avoided going out, compared to 24% of men. Instead, food is the answer for one quarter (24%) of women who admit to eating more comfort foods during their time of sickness; this compares to just 16% of men, suggesting that women have something of a “take-it-easy” attitude towards colds and flu. And while the importance of taking on extra fluids when sick has long been emphasised, just over half (54%) of men say they drink more fluids compared to seven in 10 (69%) women.

68% of all Brits say they understand the difference between different painkillers such as paracetamol, aspirin and ibuprofen.

“Men are much less likely to look after themselves when suffering from cold and flu-related ailments, and they are considerably less likely to drink more fluids, get enough sleep and avoid going out. This underlines the overall lower level of engagement between men and their health and paves the way for brands to do more to encourage men to take proper care of themselves when ill with cold or flu.” Jack comments.

Overall, the market for over the counter (OTC) analgesics and cold and flu remedies is in good health, having increased 12% between 2010 and 2015 when the market reached £1.2 billion. The market is set to continue to increase with sales forecast to grow 16% over the next five years, reaching an estimated £1.4 billion in 2020.

Finally, in terms of remedies taken, while three in 10 (29%) OTC users prefer painkillers designed for specific types of pain, more than two thirds (67%) say they are happy to use general painkillers to treat any pain. Whilst women (78%) are more likely than men (66%) to keep pain killers at hand when they are sick, there is a definite need for more education in terms of painkiller usage: 68% of all Brits say they understand the difference between different painkillers such as paracetamol, aspirin and ibuprofen.

“The fact that men are considerably less likely to keep pain killers at hand could arise from their overall lower experience of pain and lower usage of painkillers. However, as a majority of men have experienced pain in the last year, campaigns to highlight the benefits of keeping painkillers in kit or work bags could boost purchase of pain relief as a preparative measure.” Jack concludes.

* 12 months to January 2016
** “Common pain” includes headache/migraine, sinus pain, menstrual/period pain (women only), back pain, joint pain, toothache/dental pain and muscular/rheumatic pain.

Press review copies of the research and interviews with Consumer Lifestyles Analyst Jack Duckett are available on request from the press office.

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