Study provides a new understanding of pain disparities among racial groups in U.S. 

November 23, 2022

Man holds head in pain

Picture from Kindel Media/Pexels

A new study co-authored by Western researcher Anna Zajacova shows that racial and ethnic disparities in pain prevalence in the U.S. are far larger than previously realized, with multiracial and Indigenous (Native American/Alaska Native) adults reporting the highest levels of pain. 

She says this finding is significant because pain can be used as a barometer of mental and physical health of a population.  

“We aren’t talking about one particular type of pain, we are looking at pain overall,” said Zajacova, sociology professor at Western. “And it turns out that when we ask people about their pain experience, it is a really good way to capture their well-being and is an important determinant of health care utilization.” 

The research, published in the journal Pain, is based on data provided by nearly 274,000 participants, and indicates that Indigenous and multiracial Americans have by far the highest pain prevalence, while Asian Americans have the lowest pain prevalence, regardless of which specific pain measure is being assessed.  

“The fact that people who identify as multiracial reported such high levels of pain is significant and we need to understand why,” Zajacova said. She notes that some of these factors could include psychosocial factors such as discrimination or social support. “These are big questions that can help inform clinicians and public health researchers to understand how the social context is influencing the health of certain groups.” 

Read the full story by Crystal Mackay at Western News