Author(s): Deb Gordon RN, DNP, FAAN, Department of Anesthesiology & Pain Medicine, University of Wisconsin

Date Authored: December 19, 2016

Image of a variety of pills on a desk
Photo by Jamie (cc license).

2-page PDF handout (see sidebar) from University of Wisconsin Medicine, Division of Pain Medicine. Discusses cultural background as a framework that influences meaning and expression of pain.

Handout Introduction

Culture is the framework that directs human behavior in a given situation. The meaning and expression of pain are influenced by people’s cultural background. Pain is not just a physiologic response to tissue damage but also includes emotional and behavioral responses based on an individual’s past experiences and perceptions of pain. Not everyone in every culture conforms to a set of expected behaviors or beliefs, so cultural stereotyping (assuming a person will be stoic or very expressive about pain) can lead to inadequate assessment and treatment of pain. Many studies have shown that patients from minority groups and cultures different from that of health care professionals treating them receive inadequate pain management.

Areas of cultural tensions in pain often involve the struggle to achieve credibility regarding ones’ pain and adhering to pain medication regimens. Health care professionals need to be aware of their own values and perceptions as they affect how they evaluate the patient’s response to pain and ultimately how pain is treated. Even subtle cultural and individual differences, particularly in nonverbal, spoken, and written language between health care providers and patients impact care.