Racial Differences in Chronic Pain Among Football Players

PainRelief.com Interview with:
Robert R Edwards, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Anaesthesia
Pain Management Center
Brigham and Women’s Hospital

PainRelief.com: What is the background for this study?

Response: Chronic pain affects over 100 million American adults, and is a leading cause of reduced quality of life. However, in the US, the of burden of pain falls most heavily on members of racial and ethnic minority groups who frequently report more pervasive and severe pain compared with those in the majority.

In this study we evaluated race differences in pain among nearly 4,000 former professional American-style football players who self-identified as either Black or white.

PainRelief.com: What are the main findings?

Response: Black players reported more intense pain and higher levels of pain interference relative to white players, even after controlling for age, football history, comorbidities, and psychosocial factors. In addition, we found that fatigue and psychosocial factors, including depression, anxiety, and lack of social support, were more strongly associated with pain among Black players compared to white players.

These findings suggest that racial disparities in chronic pain are more complex than previously understood. Furthermore, characterizing this complexity may help identify therapeutic targets to improve these disparities and facilitate a personalized pain medicine approach that maximizes treatment benefits for populations differentially impacted by pain.

PainRelief.com: What should readers take away from your report?

Response: Chronic pain is a pervasive problem, and former football players appear to be strongly impacted by pain, with similar race differences to those seen in the general population (i.e., Black individuals report more intense and more function-impairing symptoms of pain). Many factors affect the experience of pain, and some of those factors are most strongly related to pain within specific groups. For example, fatigue and psychosocial factors, including depression, anxiety, and lack of social support, were more strongly associated with pain among Black players compared to white players

PainRelief.com: What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this study?

Response:  Future studies may benefit from including larger groups of multiracial individuals, from including longitudinal follow-up assessments to evaluate the impact of pain over time, and from performing targeted studies of personalized pain medicine to determine whether specific pain treatments may be most beneficial for certain groups.

Disclosures:  All research activities were approved by ethical review committees at the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health, the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, and Harvard Medical School. All study participants provided informed consent for the study. This work was supported by the Football Players Health Study at Harvard University, which is funded by the National Football League Players Association. The NFLPA had no role in the design and conduct of the study, or the preparation of the study manuscript.


Edwards RR, Tan CO, Dairi I, Whittington AJ, Thomas JD, Campbell CM, Ross E, Taylor HA Jr, Weisskopf M, Baggish AL, Zafonte R, Grashow R. Race differences in pain and pain-related risk factors among former professional American-style football players. Pain. 2023 Jun 9. doi: 10.1097/j.pain.0000000000002948. Epub ahead of print. PMID: 37314441.

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Last Updated on June 15, 2023 by PainRelief.com