Chronic Pain Myths Affecting Black People


Some individuals with chronic pain struggle to receive appropriate health care from their medical community and beyond. This is especially true for Black people. Racial bias surrounding pain treatment options and pain perception produces barriers that contribute to adverse health outcomes.

Why do these myths exist?

There are many myths surrounding the physical health of Black people. Race-based myths have negatively influenced medical practice for ages. Myths can begin early in the medical career, resulting in Black people not always getting the medical care they need, or their care may be biased.

Some health care professionals still underestimate Black peoples’ pain levels. Several medical students and residents have false beliefs about biological differences between Blacks and Whites. Many medical schools teach that all patients are the same, which is untrue. There is also a lack of information concerning chronic illness in Black people.

Myth 1: Black and white people present the same symptoms

Medical students may have a lower understanding of how certain illnesses present in BIPOC (Black, Indigenous People of Color) people due to the fact that they are predominantly taught about white people. This can lead to misdiagnosis or diagnosis oversight.

Myth 2: Race determines health outcomes.

Race and genetics play a large role in certain health outcomes. Additionally, racism can contribute to poor health; however, there is no formal education concerning the impact that racism has on Black people.

Myth 3: Black people cannot be trusted.

Some health care professionals may assume that Black people are dishonest about their medical histories. This includes current symptoms, personal medical history, and family history. This information is critical for an appropriate diagnosis and treatment plan.

Myth 4: Black people have a higher pain tolerance.

Black people are often denied pain medication due to the myth that their nerve endings are less sensitive, which leads to the belief that their pain tolerance is much higher. This myth factors into the evidence that Black people are less likely to be treated appropriately for chronic pain.

Myth 5: Black people have thicker skin.

The difference in skin according to race has been minimally investigated and has nothing to do with medical care that is needed. Transepidermal water loss (the amount of water that passively evaporates through skin) is typically higher in Black skin. Although there are several differences, evidence is insufficient to make confirmations about the thickness of skin.

Myth 6: Black people seek pain medication.

A common misconception is that Black people go to health care facilities in order to obtain pain medication. They may be viewed as addicts, rendering them less likely to receive opioids to treat severe pain. Additionally, if black people do receive pain medications, they are more likely to receive lower quantities and strengths.

Myth 7: Black people are different biologically.

A difference in treatment options can occur due to this myth. This belief is held by untruths, such as Black people having denser bones that are harder to break, and that their blood coagulates quickly.

Myth 8: Black people age slower.

This myth affects treatment of chronic conditions that frequently occur with age. However, Black people actually experience mortality at an earlier age than White people.

What to do if an individual is experiencing racial bias

There are several steps that can be taken if racial bias is occurring in the medical field. They include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Be honest about racial bias with the health care provider.
  • Give a detailed description of symptoms.
  • Make notes of questions, concerns and answers.
  • Research the diagnosis and treatment options available.
  • Seek another provider or facility if necessary.
  • Speak with the facility or hospital administration.

What can be done?

There is a need for more Black people in the medical field. All humans have the same basic biology, even though diseases may present differently in each race. Research, funding, and treatment discrepancies need to be addressed in health diversities. Believing the experience of chronic pain in Black people is essential to debunk these myths.

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