Race, ethnicity, and pain among the U.S. adult population

J Health Care Poor Underserved. 2010 Feb;21(1):177-220. doi: 10.1353/hpu.0.0255.


Introduction: There is reliable evidence that racial/ethnic minorities suffer disproportionately from unrelieved pain compared with Whites. Several factors may contribute to disparities in pain management. Understanding how these factors influence effective pain management among racial/ethnic minority populations would be helpful for developing tailored interventions designed to eliminate racial/ethnic disparities in pain management. We conducted a review of the literature to explore the interaction between race/ethnicity, cultural influences; pain perception, assessment, and communication; provider and patient characteristics; and health system factors and how they might contribute to racial/ethnic disparities in receipt of effective pain management.

Methods: The published literature from 1990-2008 was searched for articles with data on racial/ethnic patterns of pain management as well as racially, ethnically, and culturally-specific attitudes toward pain, pain assessment, and communication; provider prescribing patterns; community access to pain medications; and pain coping strategies among U.S. adults.

Results: The literature suggests that racial/ethnic disparities in pain management may operate through limited access to health care and appropriate analgesics; patient access to or utilization of pain specialists; miscommunication and/or misperceptions about the presence and/or severity of pain; patient attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors that influence the acceptance of appropriate analgesics and analgesic doses; and provider attitudes, knowledge and beliefs about patient pain.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Ethnicity / statistics & numerical data
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice
  • Health Services Accessibility
  • Health Status Disparities*
  • Humans
  • Pain / ethnology*
  • Pain Management
  • Physician-Patient Relations
  • Risk Factors
  • United States