Marketing Communications

WPI researchers have identified race-based differences in chronic pain and the response to a mindfulness intervention for it. 

The group’s findings, published in the most recent issue of Global Advances in Integrative Medicine and Health, report on data from a randomized controlled trial of an Integrative Medical Group Visit intervention, which combined mindfulness techniques with the medical group visit setting in an outpatient setting . This paper evaluated how African American/Black and White participants responded differently to the trial during the nine-week group visit focused on skill building in mindfulness, nutrition, and movement and then in the subsequent 12-week maintenance period with an online platform.

The team reported that African American/Black patients had higher pain severity and suffered from more pain comorbidities than White patients. While African American/Black patients demonstrated a reduction in pain over the nine weeks of the integrative medical group visit model, this trajectory leveled off after the intervention ended. This initial pain reduction was not observed in White patients over the first nine weeks. However, during the maintenance phase from nine to 21 weeks, White participants did experience reduced pain severity, while there was no additional pain reduction in African American/Black patients. This suggests that the mindfulness practice continued to benefit White patients even after the nine-week active intervention concluded, but this enduring benefit was not conferred upon African American/Black patients.

Researchers are now trying to determine the underpinnings of race-based heterogeneity in response to integrative medicine treatments for chronic pain which contribute to the broader landscape of health inequity. The authors note that a variety of factors could be at play. These include increased rates of comorbidities (including hypertension, insomnia, and anxiety); racial biases and preconceived notions some clinicians have about how sensitive African American/Black patients are to pain; social pressures that limit the ability to engage in these integrative practices; and decreased effectiveness of mindfulness interventions in treating more severe pain.

These newly published findings will inform the team’s current National Institutes of Health-funded project. Here, collaborators across WPI, University of Massachusetts Chan Medical School Boston Medical Center and Cambridge Health Alliance are working to predict who will respond to mindfulness-based treatments for chronic low back pain. 

WPI researchers on the study were: Angela C. Incollingo Rodriguez, PhD; Benjamin Nephew, PhD; Justin J. Polcari; Veronica Melican; and Jean King, PhD, Peterson Family Dean of Arts & Sciences. The team was led by Dr. Paula Gardiner of Cambridge Health Alliance and the Department of Family Medicine at UMass Chan Medical School, the principal investigator of the randomized clinical trial. 

This research was funded through a Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI) Award (AD- 1304–6218). The statements in this work are solely the responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of the PCORI, its Board of Governors or Methodology Committee.