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Cultural Backgrounds Influence How People Cope With Chronic Pain

In April, 2023 we celebrate two important events: National Public Health Week and National Minority Month.

April is a great time to see how different cultures approach health issues and to openly learn from each other.

The theme for this year is: “Centering and Celebrating Cultures in Health”

The United States is considered the “great melting pot” due to the many different backgrounds of its citizens. Cultural backgrounds can shape people’s health decisions. This is especially true when it comes to how people handle chronic pain.

Culture, Biology, and Psychology Influence How a Person Handles Chronic Pain

Chronic pain affects nearly 50 million American adults and remains a top health concern in the US.

Chronic pain can start in different ways:

  • Ongoing illnesses like cancer or arthritis
  • Damaged nerves in the spine
  • Trauma after an accident

Unlike short-term pain, chronic pain lasts over 6 months, often requiring treatment from a pain specialist.

How different people deal with chronic pain, how long the pain lasts, and how intense it is, can be influenced by:

  • Cultural background. Family and cultural traditions can shape your views on terminal illnesses like cancer.
  • Biology. Genes inherited from your parents can influence what diseases you get and the ability to withstand pain.
  • Psychology. A positive outlook in stressful health situations helps you adopt self-help habits like exercise and seeking social support.

What Science Shows About Cultural Backgrounds and Chronic Pain

In 2018, a group of scientists reviewed several studies from the US and other countries.

They focused on patients with musculoskeletal pain (chronic pain in the muscles, joints, or bones), including:

  • Neck or low back pain
  • Chronic fatigue syndrome
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Arthritis

A number of studies showed that:

  • In the US, African-Americans used praying and hoping more than Caucasians. Praying is a great way to feel positive. However, there is a down side if people over-rely on prayer and neglect to exercise or seek treatment for their pain. Caucasians, on the other hand, preferred to ignore pain. Over time, this “stay tough” strategy can decrease a person’s ability to move and function.
  • Another study compared US and Portuguese patients. Overall, US patients used ignoring, guarding (protecting an injured body part from movement), and resting strategies. Some of these approaches are not effective. Meanwhile, the Portuguese exercised and stretched, staying on course with the recommended physical therapy. This is known as ‘task persistence and is a good way to manage pain.

Be Proactive - Learn New Ways to Handle Pain

The scientific studies showed that each culture has unique ways of dealing with pain. The advantage of living in a multicultural country like the US, is that we can learn from others better ways to handle pain.

While managing pain according to your unique cultural background, it also helps to seek treatment from a pain specialist, to speed up your recovery.

The NSPC network of practices recognizes that pain comes in all shapes and sizes, and from all walks of life.

Our compassionate affiliated providers are appreciative of these differences and will work with patients in pain to find a treatment plan that fits each unique situation.

To contact an affiliated pain specialist, click here

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