What is Chronic Pain?
In order to understand the consequences of chronic pain, it’s important to know what chronic pain is, and how it differs from acute pain.
Acute pain is defined as a normal sensation, triggered by the nervous system, alerting you to possible injury and to take care of yourself. For instance, if you touch something hot, the pain alerts you to quickly remove your hand.
Unlike acute pain, which lasts temporarily, chronic pain is persistent and the pain signals continue for weeks, months or even years.
The definition of chronic pain is very broad, and is generally defined as any pain lasting for more than 12 weeks.
Chronic pain has a variety of causes, ranging from an initial injury or an ongoing illness, but there may also be no clear cause. Because of this, chronic pain can be very hard to treat and can have negative impacts on the patient’s lifestyle.
To learn more about chronic pain, see this video explanation from the American Chronic Pain Association.
If you suffer from chronic pain, you are not alone. In this article, we bring you the key facts and statistics related to who is affected by chronic pain, its costs and how to manage it.
Chronic Pain in Numbers
The number of people in the United States affected by chronic pain is staggering. Chronic pain is often hard to quantify because it is so subjective, but the numbers below prove this is a national epidemic.
1) 100 million Americans suffer from chronic pain. This is according to a study conducted by the Institute of Medicine of The National Academies.
2) Chronic pain affects more Americans than diabetes, heart disease and cancer combined.
3) Three out of four Americans have either personally experienced chronic pain or have a close family member or friend who has, according to a survey conducted by Peter D. Hart Research Associates.
4) The most likely people to report pain lasting more than 24 hours are adults aged 45-64 years, while adults 65 and over were the least likely.
5) A study by the National Institutes of Health found one in 10 Americans experienced pain every day for three months.
6) Chronic pain isn’t just an American epidemic; over 1.5 billion people worldwide suffer from chronic pain.
Who and Where?
Chronic pain manifests itself in different ways and can vary from person to person. However, there are several uniting elements, such as areas of pain and who is affected, commonly experienced by chronic pain sufferers.
1) Over half of adults in the United States have experienced chronic or recurrent pain in the past year.
2) The four most common types of chronic pain are:
- Low back pain (27%)
- Severe headache or migraine pain (15%)
- Neck pain (15%)
- Facial pain (4%)
These figures are from respondents taking part in a National Institute of Health Statistics survey in 2004.
3) Women are more likely to experience the four most common types of chronic pain, and twice as likely to suffer from severe headaches or migraines and facial pain than men.
4) Age is an important factor when it comes to who is affected by chronic lower back pain. People 18-44 years old were less likely to experience lower back pain compared to those aged 45 and over, as found in a survey by the CDC.
5) Lower back pain is the most common form of frequent or chronic pain, affecting more than 26 million Americans between the ages of 20-64.
6) 7% of persistent lower back pain cases develop into chronic pain.
Because chronic pain is a constant or recurring problem, it can negatively impact sufferers’ lives. Chronic pain manifests itself in different ways, but here are some of its most common effects.
1) According to the Sleep in America poll, approximately 20% of American adults, or 42 million people, report that pain or physical discomfort disrupts their sleep at least a few nights a week.
2) Nearly two-thirds of people with chronic pain report problems sleeping, which often makes the pain worse; thus resulting in a frustrating cycle of pain and sleeplessness.
3) More than half of chronic pain sufferers feel they have little or no control over their pain. This figure is from a 2006 survey conducted for the American Pain Foundation that evaluated the impact of chronic pain on 300 sufferers.
4) When asked, 4 out of 10 people with chronic pain say it has an impact on their overall enjoyment of life, including interfering their mood, sleep or ability to work.
5) 77% of people report feeling depressed due to their chronic pain.
6) According to the National Sleep Foundation, one in three with chronic pain report not getting enough sleep to feel their best.
Dealing with Pain
There are many different ways of dealing with chronic pain, from visiting doctors, working with specialists (such as physical therapists and chiropractors), taking medication to gentle exercise. We bring you a range of statistics related to dealing with the pain.
1) According to a survey entitled Americans Talk About Pain, more than half of pain sufferers visited their family doctor for help, while a quarter visited a chiropractor. Only 15% of people living with pain visited a specialist for pain management.
2) In order to address the pain, some people with chronic pain have made serious steps including: taking disability leave from work (20%), changing jobs altogether (17%), getting help with activities of daily living (13%) and moving to a home that is easier to manage (13%).
3) Just 23% of patients with chronic pain found opioids effective, according to a 2006 survey carried out by the American Pain Foundation.
4) Nearly all people with chronic pain seek alternative treatments; regardless of the prescription or over-the-counter drugs they are taking, or the nature of their pain.
5) If you or someone you know suffers from chronic pain, The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests talking to your doctor about managing pain without drugs through methods such as physical therapy and exercise or cognitive behavioral therapy. These methods can be more effective than drugs and have fewer risks and side effects.
6) Studies demonstrate that low levels of vitamin D are common in chronic pain patients. Taking up to 50 μg could have positive effects on people suffering from chronic pain as vitamin D plays a role in bone health.
Many findings related to this are conflicting, but according to the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, human diets do not provide sufficient vitamin D and therefore isn’t a condition exclusive to people with chronic pain.
Cost on the Economy
Due to the vast number of people who have a form of chronic pain, it is inevitable that it has implications on the economy. All age groups result in similar costs on the American economy – meaning chronic pain is a universal issue.
1) In the United States, pain is a significant public health problem that costs society at least $560-$635 billion annually, or equal to $2,000 for everyone living in the US.
2) 36 million Americans missed work due to pain in a single year.
3) Data from the American Productivity Audit found workers lost an average of 4.6 hours of productive time a week due to pain conditions.
4) Lost productivity due to pain costs the US $299-$325 billion, based on factors including days of work missed, hours of work lost and lower wages.
5) Headache pain was the most commonly attributed cause of lost productive time at work.
6. The economic costs of chronic pain on the economy are similar amongst all age groups, meaning people in their 20s and 30s cost the same as the elderly.
Pain Management or Treatments
Because pain is subjective, it can be very hard to treat. There is no specific cure for chronic pain and therefore, some people may live with it for the rest of their lives.
Most chronic pain sufferers don’t seek a ‘cure’ but ways to treat and manage the pain in order to make their day-to-day lives as normal as possible.
1) Almost all (90%) of pain sufferers have consulted a medical professional to try and ease their pain.
2) Four in 10 people with chronic pain say massage therapy and chiropractic care worked very well for their pain, as found in a survey by ABC News.
3) In reference to taking over-the-counter medications for their pain, two-thirds of people said they were not effective in treating chronic pain.
4) Unfortunately, few people feel there is a cure for chronic pain. More than half, or 66% of pain sufferers, expect to live with some pain for the rest of their life, while 30% expect to become pain-free from a cure or treatments.
5) When it comes to chronic pain treatments, 58% of chronic pain sufferers are very or somewhat satisfied with their current method of choice.
6) In a survey conducted for Research!America close to six out of 10 adults would be willing to pay one dollar more per week in taxes to increase federal funding research into the causes and treatment of pain.