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J Behav Med. 2008 Oct;31(5):379-89. doi: 10.1007/s10865-008-9160-9. Epub 2008 Jun 25.

The association of perceived discrimination with low back pain.

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  • 1Department of Anesthesiology, Perioperative, and Pain Medicine, and Psychiatry, Harvard Medical School, Pain Management Center, Brigham and Women's Hospital, 850 Boylston Street, Suite 302, Chestnut Hill, MA 02467, USA.


A handful of recent studies have documented perceived discrimination as a correlate of poor physical and mental health status among ethnic and racial minority groups. To date, however, despite a proliferation of research on ethnic disparities in the severity and impact of a number of persistent pain conditions, there have been no reports on associations between perceived discrimination and pain-related symptoms. Using data from a national survey (the National Survey of Midlife Development in the United States; MIDUS), we explore the relationships between perceived discriminatory events and the report of back pain among African-American and white men and women. As expected, African-American participants reported substantially greater perceptions of discrimination than white participants. Moreover, in models that included a variety of physical and mental health variables, episodes of major lifetime discriminatory events were the strongest predictors of back pain report in African-Americans, and perceived day-to-day discrimination was the strongest predictor of back pain report specifically in African-American women. Among white participants, perceptions of discrimination were minimally related or unrelated to back pain. To our knowledge, these are the first data documenting an association between perceived discrimination and report of back pain; the fact that perceptions of discrimination were stronger predictors than physical health variables highlights the potential salience and adverse impact of perceived discrimination in ethnic and racial minority groups.

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