Disparities in the pain experience and pain management based upon minority status have been well documented. Despite decades of research revealing the profound extent and effects of these disparities, little is known about underlying mechanisms that promote disparities. Examination of the social determinants of pain disparities — the environmental conditions and context within which people develop and live that influence pain — holds promise to identify social mechanisms that contribute to and help maintain pain disparities. Examples of social factors that may contribute to pain disparities include:
- stigmatization and discrimination based upon gender, ethnicity/race, age, disability and health status (among others);
- degree of social/community support;
- low socioeconomic status; and
- exposure to trauma resulting from residence in disordered neighborhoods with high levels of crime and violence.
Mechanistic knowledge of the impact of social factors will not only propel the field of pain disparities research beyond an examination of group differences but may importantly guide the development of social targets to support pain treatment — particularly among those who continue to bear an unequal burden of pain.