Living in a poor neighborhood worsens the symptoms of chronic pain, according to a study at the University of Michigan Health System, but young black patients face problems with pain management no matter where they live. The study, recently published in The Journal of Pain suggests that doctors should pay more attention to their patient’s socioeconomic status when treating chronic pain.
“Acknowledging the patient’s life circumstances and resources may facilitate physician-patient communication, increase adherence, improve health care effectiveness and efficiency and improve the patient’s health and well-being,” says Carmen R. Green, MD, a pain medicine expert at the U-M Health System and the study’s lead author.
The study included 3,730 adults, all under age 50, and was designed to examine the association between race and poor neighborhoods for black and white adults suffering from chronic pain. Living in a lower socioeconomic neighborhood was linked with more pain, pain-related disability and mood disorders such as depression and anxiety. Researchers also found that blacks, especially young adults, had significantly more pain and disability whether they lived in lower or higher socioeconomic neighborhoods.
“Our results provide support for race as well as neighborhood socioeconomic status influencing the pain experience but further suggests that better socioeconomic status is not protective for young blacks in the same way it is for young whites,” says Green, who has been studying access to health and pain care, as well as health and pain disparities due to age, race, ethnicity, gender, and socioeconomic class.
“Our findings show an unequal burden of pain in blacks and among those living in poor neighborhoods among the 116 million adults who experience chronic pain,” Green says. “As the U.S. increasingly diversifies, and the prevalence of pain increases, it is critically important to examine health disparities due to pain in vulnerable populations.”
Green was recently named by the National Institutes of Health to a national committee addressing chronic pain. The Interagency Pain Research Coordinating Committee will work to identify gaps in research on the symptoms, causes, and treatment of pain and will recommend federal research programs in these areas.
She is among six non-federal researchers named to the group that includes doctors from Harvard Medical School, the American Cancer Society and Stanford University School of Medicine.