During the height of my wife’s pregnancy, I suffered through one of the most painful things I’ve ever endured: kidney stones. For a period of several weeks, it seemed like my wife and I were in a pain competition. Both of us had something growing inside of us: In my wife, it was a miniature human. In me, an evil little piece of calcium.
The similarities didn’t stop there. We were both bedridden because of our condition, and on several nights, the only way either of us could get comfortable was to sleep on our sides with a pillow between our legs. As the baby sprouted arms and legs, my kidney stone grew jagged little spikes all around it. And while the baby would kick my wife with a vengeance, my kidney stone scraped my ureter like a loose muffler along the highway. We both even had the same anesthesiologist.
The parallels in our physical conditions seemed eerily similar to me—not just sympathy pains, but something more proportionate. But my chauvinist male brain worried that I couldn’t possibly make this comparison. If you want to piss off a woman, tell her that passing a kidney stone is the same thing as childbirth. It just sounds so absurd. If I had an 8 pound kidney stone, I guarantee I’d be dead.
Consumed by thoughts that I was just being a wuss, I reached out to Beth Darnall, Ph.D., a pain psychologist at Stanford University.
She explained that “how we experience pain is a very personal and very relative.” When I asked if men experience any pain similar to labor, she called it an “age-old question, and I don’t think you’re going to settle it. But I don’t think there’s an exact equivalent to pushing a human being out of your vagina.”
“However,” she said, “one person’s kidney stones could be as severe as another person’s childbirth.”
The neurological process involved in pain is pretty similar regardless of your gender but there is one important difference.
“Pain is just more painful for women,” said Dr. Darnall. “Men experience pain at a lower intensity.” So if the experience itself is equal—whatever it is that’s causing the pain—women will feel it more acutely than men.
As for original question, Dr. Darnall recommended that I “find a woman who’s had both a baby and kidney stones and ask her.” Conveniently, I have a sister who’s experienced both, and she didn’t hesitate when I asked.
“Kidney stones, absolutely,” my sister said. “But labor was a bitch, too.”
And kidney stones, as it turns out, isn’t the only pain experience that’s competitive with childbirth. Here are five others that are in the same pain ballpark as labor, and sometimes surpass it.
Dr. Paul Christo, a pain specialist at Johns Hopkins Hospital and host of the syndicated radio talk show Aches and Gains, calls this “probably the worse pain imaginable. I’ve had patients say it’s worse than labor pain or burns.”
This kind of headache is focused on one side of the head, usually around the eyes, and can last up to 3 hours or more. And while headaches are equal opportunity oppressors, Dr. Christo says that cluster headaches tend to “affect men more than women.”
Also known as Fothergill’s disease, this is a neuropathic disorder caused by inflammation of the trigeminal nerve, “which is located in the head, and from the eye down to the jaw,” says Dr. Darnall.
She calls it “a very exquisite type of pain. That kind of pain where you feel like a knife stabbing in.” And unlike labor pain, how much you endure isn’t up to you. “Treatment options are limited,” says Dr. Darnall. “There is no epidural coming. There are people who have suicidal ideation or who do commit suicide because of it.”
Complex Regional Pain Syndrome
“A fascinating pain condition that occurs typically following an injury, and it could begin after surgery,” says Dr. Darnall. “Instead of healing, the pain suddenly blossoms out of control.”
The hallmark symptom, she says, is “sharp, debilitating pain. It can be so severe for some people, they can come into a doctor’s office and ask to just amputate their arm.” Which, believe it or not, is occasionally the best option for treatment.
And not just third-degree burns. Any kind of burn can be excruciating and ongoing. “It’s comparable to labor pain,” says Dr. Christo. “The post burn care process is grueling because it requires wound debridements, dressing changes, skin grafting, and skin stretching.”
A fancy name for a severe pain in the butt. It can be caused by something as simple as falling down, and while it’s problematic for anyone, it’s especially so for men “because it can affect the penis,” Dr. Darnall says.
How so? This condition can cause penis and scrotum numbness, and what a 2010 report in the Journal of the Canadian Chiropractic Association described as “insidious constant penis pain.” Those are two adjectives you definitelydon’t want in front of a diagnosis of penis pain: “Insidious” and “constant.”
Source: Men’s Health
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