On the eve of Black History Month, 2013, as we end a month that saw the first black U.S. president experience his second inauguration, this country still wrestles with equality.

University of Michigan researchers, publishing their findings last year in “The Journal of Pain,” found that living in a less affluent neighborhood positively correlated with more severe chronic pain in young adults. However, young black chronic pain sufferers experienced difficulties with the management of that pain independent of where they lived.

Physicians would do well to spend more time assessing a patient’s socioeconomic circumstances. This could result in better compliance, and make the pain management experience more meaningful, and more effective.

Researchers collected data on almost 4,000 adults under age 50, with the goal of examining the association between race and neighborhood socioeconomic status in blacks and whites suffering from chronic pain. And they found that life in a lower socioeconomic neighborhood was associated with a greater degree of sensory and affective pain, disability due to pain, and psychiatric diagnoses such as depression and anxiety.

Interestingly, black subjects had more pain and disability, no matter the socioeconomic status of their neighborhoods: Moving up did not offer the degree of immunity to chronic pain and its sequelae in the black population compared to the white population.

Blacks—and others living in poorer neighborhoods—appear to suffer the burden of chronic pain to a greater degree than others in this country. The pain management community will have to confront these findings, as soon as possible; for this country is becoming more diverse every year, just as pain is becoming more prevalent. Vulnerable populations will grow, as will the need to navigate through the obstacles to pain relief that race and society place along the path to pain relief.

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