Study analyzing often-overlooked racial/ethnic groups provides a new understanding of pain disparities in the U.S: Racial/ethnic disparities in pain prevalence are much greater than previously thought, according to researcher

Racial and ethnic disparities in pain prevalence in the U.S. are far larger than previously realized, according to the results of a new study co-written by a University at Buffalo medical sociologist.

The current research represents the first portrait of U.S. pain prevalence across six major racial and ethnic groups, as defined by the U.S. Census Bureau. While earlier studies of pain disparities have focused on Black, white and Hispanic groups, the current study also includes Native Americans (American Indians/Alaska Natives), Asian Americans, and the fast-growing “multiracial” category. The study also uses six measures of increasing severity of pain to test whether the findings are sensitive to a specific definition of pain.

The findings, based on data provided by nearly 274,000 participants and published in the journal Pain, indicate that Native Americans 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.

For example, compared to Asian Americans, Native Americans are over four times as likely to experience severe pain, and multiracial Americans are over three times as likely. Meanwhile, those who self-identify as white, Black or Hispanic have intermediate levels of severe pain. Similar racial/ethnic patterns are observed across other pain measures as well.

The findings on pain prevalence among Native Americans, multiracial Americans and Asian Americans substantially expand the limited previous research documenting pain levels for these groups.

“This research identifies the groups that have the highest unmet need for pain prevention and management,” says Hanna Grol-Prokopczyk, PhD, associate professor of sociology in the UB College of Arts and Sciences, and co-author of the study, which was led by Anna Zajacova, PhD, professor of sociology at Western University in Canada.

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