Pain is something many of us try to avoid at all cost. It’s the reason why we put off that cavity filling and why we work so hard to make our cars and homes safe. Unfortunately, despite all the precautions taken, 25 million adults suffer from chronic pain—that is, they’ve had pain every day for at least three months.

It is commonly believed that pain physiologically affects men and women differently. The sex hormones estrogen and testosterone are widely to blame. But, what is even more fascinating is how men and women are psychologically conditioned by culture to deal with pain and what that could mean for disease prevention.

Learning manhood

Overall, men are half as likely as women to have a preventive health visit with a health care provider—physicals, screenings and so on. When they do show up at a provider’s office, it’s often harder to treat the disease at hand as it will have progressed.

"Pain shouldn’t be ignored; it is often our body’s, unpleasant way of saying we’ve already been ignoring it."

Throughout childhood, boys are taught “big boys don’t cry.” As they age, men often think they are too tough to see a doctor; in their 30s and 40s, they are too busy; and in their 50s and beyond, they are too scared.

The unfortunate implication is that men carry the mentality of toughing it out from boyhood into manhood. When it comes to chronic pain, as a warning sign, that mindset can be fatal.

Blaming the system

To make matters worse, we don’t always appropriately handle the men who are doing the right thing and going to the doctor. When men and boys do show up, providers spend less time with them than their female patients, ask fewer questions, offer less advice on how to improve their health and recommend fewer screenings.

Chronic pain is difficult by itself, but it could also be a warning sign for another serious condition. Regardless, pain shouldn’t be ignored; it is often our body’s, unpleasant way of saying we’ve already been ignoring it. We have to start paying more attention to our health than we do to our cars and we need to schedule a physical exam—today.

We may not want to do it for ourselves, but at the very least we need to do it for our family. The provider-protector role is a big part of our identity. Do we really want to leave our loved ones without a father, partner, brother or son?