Ethnic Similarities and Differences in the Chronic Pain Experience: A Comparison of African American, Hispanic, and White Patients


Reprint requests to: Robert R. Edwards, PhD, Department of Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, 600 N. Wolfe St, Meyer 1-101, Baltimore, MD 21287, USA. Tel: 410-614-3396; Fax: 410-614-3366; E-mail:


Objective.  Ethnic differences in the perception, experience, and impact of pain have received growing attention in recent years. Although studies comparing pain among African Americans, Hispanics, and whites have yielded mixed findings, increasing evidence suggests an enhancement of the pain experience for African American and Hispanic patients. Mechanisms proposed to account for this effect include systematic differences in psychological distress and in pain-coping strategies, or differential relationships between these factors and pain. However, few studies have evaluated all of these variables, or matched ethnic groups precisely on potential confounds.

Design.  The present study compares African American, Hispanic, and white chronic pain patients across multiple dimensions of pain, emotional distress, pain-related disability, and pain coping after matching patients on a variety of potentially confounding variables.

Results.  Results indicated no significant ethnic differences on measures of pain, depression, psychopathology, or pain-related disability. While most coping variables did not differ by ethnicity, substantive group differences were evident on the praying and hoping subscale of the Coping Strategies Questionnaire, with African Americans and Hispanics reporting higher scores relative to whites on items relating to prayer. Inter-relationships among pain, coping, and distress were generally quite similar across ethnic groups, although active coping showed some variation in its relationship with pain-related outcomes. Catastrophizing was generally associated with greater pain and distress, and use of prayer/hope as a coping strategy was associated with greater disability across ethnic groups.

Conclusions.  These results suggest that ethnic differences in pain, pain-related sequelae, and affective factors may be small when ethnic groups are closely matched on confounding variables. Moreover, interventions designed to facilitate adaptive coping are likely to be effective across ethnic groups.