Results Summary

What was the research about?

Arthritis is a long-term health problem that causes joint swelling, pain, and reduced motion. Compared with white Americans, African Americans are more likely to have arthritis and to report higher levels of arthritis pain.

In this study, the research team wanted to learn if a pain coping skills training program tailored for African Americans with hip or knee arthritis reduced pain severity. The team worked with African-American patients, doctors, and public health workers to make the program culturally appropriate for African Americans with arthritis. The team also looked at the program’s effect on how patients thought about and lived with pain. The team compared patients who took part in the program and also received their usual care with those who received their usual care only.

What were the results?

After three or nine months, patients who were in the training program didn’t differ in pain severity reduction compared with those who weren’t in the program.

But compared with those who weren’t in the program, patients in the program

  • Had higher confidence in their ability to manage arthritis
  • Had fewer negative thoughts when in pain
  • Used pain coping strategies more often
  • Reported more improvement in arthritis symptoms

The groups didn’t differ in

  • Ability to do daily activities
  • Symptoms of depression
  • Overall mental and physical health

Who was in the study?

The study included 248 African Americans with hip or knee arthritis. Patients received care at one of two health systems in North Carolina. The average age was 59, and 51 percent were men.

What did the research team do?

The research team assigned patients by chance to receive the program or not. During the study, all patients continued their usual arthritis care. The program offered 11 weekly training sessions. A counselor led these sessions on the phone for 30–45 minutes. During sessions, the counselor

  • Taught pain coping skills, such as relaxation and managing negative thoughts
  • Helped patients practice those skills
  • Helped patients set goals for using the skills
  • Encouraged problem solving

Patients in the program got handouts for each session. They also got an audio guide for muscle relaxation. Patients filled out surveys at the start of the program and three and nine months after the program ended.

Patients, doctors, and public health workers gave feedback throughout the study.

What were the limits of the study?

Patients in the study lived in one region of North Carolina. Results may differ in other locations. Also, 20 percent of patients in the program went to fewer than two sessions. The low attendance may have affected the study’s results.

Future research could continue to explore ways to help African Americans with hip or knee arthritis cope with pain. Researchers could also look at ways to improve attendance at training sessions.

How can people use the results?

African Americans with arthritis and their doctors could use these results when considering ways to manage arthritis pain.

Final Research Report

View this project's final research report.

Peer-Review Summary

Peer review of PCORI-funded research helps make sure the report presents complete, balanced, and useful information about the research. It also assesses how the project addressed PCORI’s Methodology Standards. During peer review, experts read a draft report of the research and provide comments about the report. These experts may include a scientist focused on the research topic, a specialist in research methods, a patient or caregiver, and a healthcare professional. These reviewers cannot have conflicts of interest with the study.

The peer reviewers point out where the draft report may need revision. For example, they may suggest ways to improve descriptions of the conduct of the study or to clarify the connection between results and conclusions. Sometimes, awardees revise their draft reports twice or more to address all of the reviewers’ comments. 

Peer reviewers commented and the researchers made changes or provided responses. Those comments and responses included the following:

  • The reviewers expressed concern about the report’s recommendation to disseminate the pain coping skills training intervention when the results for the primary outcome did not show a benefit. The researchers said they included the recommendation because of promising findings from secondary outcomes but agreed that the conclusion should rely more on the primary outcome. As a result, the researchers removed the recommendation for dissemination from both the report’s abstract and conclusion.
  • Some reviewers requested that the researchers include a per-protocol analysis based on sessions completed, rather than just the more robust intention-to-treat analysis, but the editor told the researchers that this was not necessary. The researchers added an analysis focusing on participants who attended at least seven sessions, the complier average causal effect, because they had already been asked to provide this analysis for their primary results journal publication.
  • The reviewers questioned the inclusion of the 12-Item Short Form Survey, SF-12, as an outcome measure of quality of life, since this can be insensitive to change over a period as short as one year. The researchers acknowledged this limitation but stated that they included the measure not because they expected to see a difference in overall health but in response to stakeholders’ recommendations. They also noted that the SF-12, as a common measure, can be used as a metric to compare this study sample to other studies.
  • The reviewers asked the researchers to provide more information about how they handled the higher loss to follow-up in the intervention group than the comparison group. The reviewers also suggested that this difference be noted as a limitation. The researchers explained that they accounted for this differential loss to follow-up by including the treatment arm into their analytic models as well as using multiple imputation for missing data. The result, they stated, was an unbiased treatment effect estimate. The researchers also noted that they separately addressed the issue of lower treatment engagement in the intervention group.

Conflict of Interest Disclosures

Project Information

Kelli Allen, PhD
The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Pain Coping Skills Training for African Americans with Osteoarthritis

Key Dates

April 2015
September 2019

Study Registration Information


Has Results
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Health Conditions Health Conditions These are the broad terms we use to categorize our funded research studies; specific diseases or conditions are included within the appropriate larger category. Note: not all of our funded projects focus on a single disease or condition; some touch on multiple diseases or conditions, research methods, or broader health system interventions. Such projects won’t be listed by a primary disease/condition and so won’t appear if you use this filter tool to find them. View Glossary
Populations Populations PCORI is interested in research that seeks to better understand how different clinical and health system options work for different people. These populations are frequently studied in our portfolio or identified as being of interest by our stakeholders. View Glossary
Intervention Strategy Intervention Strategies PCORI funds comparative clinical effectiveness research (CER) studies that compare two or more options or approaches to health care, or that compare different ways of delivering or receiving care. View Glossary
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Last updated: January 20, 2023