Chronic Pain Statistics

29 Chronic Pain Statistics: Facts, Figures And Research

If you suffer with chronic pain, you are not alone; it affects the lives of millions around the world.

Before we go any further we need to fully understand what the term ‘chronic pain’ means.

The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Strokes, explain that chronic pain persists because pain signals keep firing in the nervous system for long periods of time.

So you’re probably wondering what acute pain is? Acute pain comes on suddenly and ends when the cause of the pain disappears. For example, if you pick up something hot and burn your hand.

Chronic pain however lasts longer than three months or past the time of normal healing.

Chronic Pain Stats and Facts: A Quick Summary

  • 1 in 5 US adults experienced chronic pain in 2016.
  • Between 11% and 40% of US adults are living with chronic pain.
  • Low back pain is the most common type of chronic pain.
  • At least 10% of the world’s population is affected by chronic pain.
  • Chronic pain costs the US up to $635 billion ever year.
  • 191 million opioid prescriptions were dispensed to patients in the US in 2017.
  • Up to 85% of patients with chronic pain are affected by severe depression.

Key Statistics on Chronic Pain: Infographic

Chronic Pain Statistics – infographic

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Interesting Facts about Chronic Pain

To help you understand the scale and impact of the problem, we’ve compiled 29 chronic pain statistics:

1. Chronic pain can last for longer than six months and even for years.[1]

Chronic pain occurs in addition to the pain of the original health condition.

The Institute of Chronic Pain explains that once it starts, it’s pretty hard to stop.

Worryingly, chronic pain has become independent of the underlying injury or illness that triggered it in the first place.

In the US, the number of people affected by chronic pain is eye-watering, and you’re about to learn that it is something of a national epidemic…

2. Between 11% and 40% of US adults are living with chronic pain.[2]

The 2016 National Pain Strategy called for more precise calculations to understand the full scale of the problem.

3. 1 in 5 US adults experienced chronic pain in 2016.[3]

Based on a sample size of over 17,000 respondents, 8% described having ‘high-impact’ chronic pain.

This type of pain was defined as limiting life or work activities on most days or every day during the past six months.

1 in 5 US adults experienced chronic pain in 2016

4. Chronic pain affects more Americans than diabetes, heart disease and cancer combined.[4]

5. The four most common types of chronic pain are:[5]

  1. Low back pain (27%)
  2. Severe headache or migraine pain (15%)
  3. Neck pain (15%)
  4. Facial pain (4%)

6. 22% of women report suffering from chronic pain, compared to 19% of men.[6]

All the stats point in the same direction — women are more likely to suffer from chronic pain than men.

7. The older you get, the more likely you are to experience chronic pain.[7]

Percent of adults with chronic pain
Age GroupChronic painHigh-impact chronic pain
18-24 years7.01.5
25-44 years13.24.4
45-64 years27.812.0

There are a number of other factors that also influence the likelihood of you experiencing chronic pain. These include being unemployed, living in a rural area, living in poverty or being female! You can see a table highlighting the differences here.

8. Up to 30% of adults over 65 report suffering from chronic pain.[8]

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates 15% of Americans over the age of 65 use a prescription pain relief drug.

Up to 30% of over 65s suffer from chronic pain

It gets worse for our older readership:

Older adults are more likely to have additional health problems that can cause or complicate chronic pain.

The percentage of older Americans suffering from chronic pain conditions has also been shared by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, with arthritis at the top of the list:

  • Arthritis – 48%
  • Back or neck pain – 45%
  • Chronic joint pain – 41%
  • Nerve pain – 10%
  • Migraine or headache — 6%

9. Chronic pain is one of the most common reasons adults seek medical care.[9]

It has also been linked to restrictions in mobility, daily activity, dependence on opioids, anxiety, depression and poor perceived health or reduced quality of life.

We’ve also got bad news for younger readers and their parents:

10. Between 20% and 40% of children and adolescents experience chronic pain globally.[10]

The most common conditions they experience are musculoskeletal pain, headaches, and abdominal pain.

Consequently, their families might experience emotional distress. Interestingly research suggests that how parents respond to their child’s pain may have a significant impact on the course of the child’s pain.

The Cost of Chronic Pain

Unsurprisingly, as a large number of people experience chronic pain, it inevitably has major implications on the economy.

1. Chronic pain costs the US up to $635 billion every year.[11]

Health economists calculated this figure by analyzing the increasing costs of health care due to pain and the indirect costs due to lower productivity.

This is more than the annual cost of cancer, heart disease and diabetes.

2. Lost productivity, due to chronic pain, costs the US between $299-$344 billion.[12]

Adults suffering from chronic pain miss more days from work, impacting on the amount of money they’re able to earn annually.

Worldwide Chronic Pain Statistics

1. At least 10% of the world’s population is affected by chronic pain.[13]

That’s approximately 60 million people around the globe looking for relief from pain!

At least 10% of the world’s population live with chronic pain

2. $77.8 billion is spent on chronic pain treatment globally.[14]

Market estimates predict that this figure will grow annually by 6.5%.

3. In the poorest countries in the world, up to 25% of the population are suffering from chronic pain.[15]

Lower and middle income countries suffer from much higher rates of chronic pain than richer countries.

Statistics about the Effects of Chronic Pain

Chronic pain is debilitating. It causes chaos with sleep and can even lead to suicide – the statistics will make you shudder:

1. Approximately 25% of people with chronic pain will go on to develop Chronic Pain Syndrome (CPS).[16]

According to Columbia University Department of Neurology people with CPS develop symptoms beyond pain, like anger, depression, anxiety, loss of sexual desire and disability that disrupts their daily lives.

CPS can occur alongside other conditions that involve long-term pain such as cancer, stroke, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, endometriosis and inflammatory bowel disease.

2. Chronic pain sufferers experience an average 42 minute sleep debt.[17]

The Sleep in America Poll conducted by the National Sleep Foundation found that pain is a significant challenge when it comes to getting a good night’s sleep.

Which is worrying, as here in the US we’re not great sleepers anyway!

65% of pain-free people reported ‘good’ or ‘very good’ sleep quality, compared to only 37% of people with chronic pain.

3. Nearly one in four people with chronic pain have been diagnosed with a sleep disorder.[18]

Sleep disorders are on the rise across the world, and are even more of an issue for people living with chronic pain.

1 in 4 people with chronic pain suffer from a sleep disorder

4. Up to 85% of patients with chronic pain are affected by severe depression.[19]

Clinical studies have revealed that suffering from chronic pain often leads to depression.

The World Health Organization report that more than 264 million people are currently suffering from depression.

5. Between 2003 and 2014, the percentage of people committing suicide due to chronic pain rose from 7.4% to 10.2%.[20]

Findings have shown that pain conditions elevate the risk of suicide.

Over an 11 year time frame, the National Violent Death Reporting System identified that 8.8% (10,789) of suicides had evidence of chronic pain.

16.2% of those with chronic pain who committed suicide, died by an opioid overdose.

6. The most common conditions amongst the deceased were:[21]

  • Back pain (22.6%)
  • Injury (13.2%)
  • Cancer (12.5%)
  • Arthritis (7.9%)
  • Migraine (5.2%)
  • Fibromyalgia (5.1%).
  • Diabetes (4.9%).

Managing Chronic Pain

Unfortunately, chronic conditions generally require life-long management.

The American Chronic Pain Association in this short video outlines an important takeaway message: pain management is more than one simple treatment. It takes a team effort with the person in pain taking an active role to live a full life:

Here are the most commonly used pain relief options for those living with chronic pain:

Opioids

As explained by the Mayo Clinic, opioids are a broad group of pain-relieving drugs that work by interacting with opioid receptors in your cells, muffling your perception of pain and boosting feelings of pleasure.

However, as you’re about to learn, there’s a real problem in the US and there’s lots to consider before taking them!

1. 191 million opioid prescriptions were dispensed to patients in the US in 2017.[22]

Primary care providers are concerned about patient addiction and have reported insufficient training when it comes to prescribing opioids.

191 million opioid prescriptions were dispensed in 2017

2. The state of Alabama writes almost three times more opioid prescriptions per person than Hawaii.[23]

Studies suggest that regional variations in the use of prescription opioids aren’t linked to the underlying health status of the people living there.

3. Approximately 20% of chronic non-cancer pain (CNCP) patients who visit a physician receive an opioid prescription.[24]

This is a shocking statistic, when you consider that the use of opioids for long-term treatment of CNCP doesn’t show a positive effect, nor does it improve the quality of life for patients.

4. Almost one-third of all prescribed medications are for people over 65.[25]

According to the American Chronic Pain Association, negative side effects from drugs in over 65s are often overlooked as age-related changes (general weakness, dizziness and upset stomach).

However it could be that the person is experiencing a medication-related problem.

6. In 2016, more than 11.5 million people in the US reported misusing prescription opioids.[27]

Here’s the real shocker:

7. Drug overdoses now kill more Americans than gun crimes.[28]

Research by the CDC shows that drug overdoses killed more than 70,000 Americans in 2017.

Drug overdoses now kill more Americans than gun crimes

This figure is higher than deaths from HIV, car crashes or gun violence at their peaks.

Current national trends indicate that each year more people die of overdoses, mainly due to opioid drugs, than died in the entirety of the Vietnam War, the Korean War, or any armed conflict since the end of World War II.

Data also strongly suggests that increased deaths correspond strongly with the use of synthetic opioids known as fentanyl. This is typically used to treat patients with severe pain or to manage pain after surgery.

8. Every day 90 Americans die prematurely from an overdose that involves an opioid.[29]

This is felt across all life stages and in every sociodemographic group, but it does heavily impact the vulnerable such as those living in economically depressed areas.

Exercise

Research has proven that regular exercise can help ease pain long-term, as it improves muscle tone, strength and flexibility. Exercise also causes a release of endorphins, the body’s natural painkillers.

Many types of gentle exercise can be therapeutic and often include range-of-motion activities, stretching, strength training and cardiovascular conditioning. Some simple ways of doing this include walking, yoga, pilates, tai chi and aqua-therapy.

A study in 2015 discovered that engaging in pilates, reduced chronic low back pain more than any other intervention using minimal physical exercise.

However, we suggest before you embark on any activities, you speak to a medical professional about what would be right for you. Pain flare-ups can occur even with safe exercise, so it’s important to work with a healthcare professional to determine a careful program.

Physical Therapy

Physical therapy can be a useful way to deal with pain.

A report by the National Institutes of Health highlights the dangers of the overuse of opioids to deal with pain, and recommend non-pharmacological therapies, including physical therapy.

Physical therapy is beneficial because it is guided by the patient’s underlying conditions, and aims to find the source of the pain, rather than just treating the symptoms.

Chiropractor

If you’re suffering from chronic back pain, you could consider seeing a chiropractor.

Harvard Medical School explain that chiropractors often use a technique called spinal manipulation to try and correct the body’s alignment to reduce pain. This, in turn, improves your range of motion and encourages the body to heal itself.

The American College of Physicians recommend spinal manipulation to treat lower back pain.

It’s not a risk-free treatment but the risks are relatively low and many patients feel immediate relief, as growing research by the American Chiropractic Association demonstrates.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

Cognitive behavioral therapy is a psychological treatment that can be powerful in improving mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety.

It can also have amazing benefits for people living with pain.

The ACPA describes how pain-CBT focuses on the mental, emotional and behavioral concerns that people suffering from chronic pain may face.

It can provide you with the skills you need to identify negative thoughts that serve to make the pain worse and establish more constructive coping mechanisms to help reduce stress.

Other Ways of Dealing with Pain


An article in OnHealth shares some ideas to deal with and treat chronic pain:

  • Journaling can help with pain management. Use a pain journal to record your symptoms, what you did that day, and what foods you ate, providing yourself and your doctor with a valuable record that could help to discover more effective treatments.
  • Focus on your breathing to help some of the discomfort or pain to melt away.
  • Try acupuncture, as studies have linked the practice to two potential benefits for those suffering from chronic pain, increased pain threshold and long-term chronic pain relief.
  • Take daily supplements to assist with bone health and pain relief, in particular, when it comes to arthritis or other joint pain, according to the National Institutes of Health.

There’s also been much debate about the role of vitamin D when it comes to chronic pain.

Research suggests that vitamin D might play a crucial role in different cellular activities that are thought to be protective against chronic pain development. However, a word of caution, despite an increasing bank of literature, there is not a definitive understanding of how vitamin D or vitamin D supplementation actually helps to prevent or reduce chronic pain.

But there’s no denying that it’s needed for health and to maintain strong bones so make sure you get the right amount for your age.

Further Support


The most important thing to remember if you suffer from chronic pain, is that you are not alone!

There are many different treatments and medical professionals out there to help you manage your pain.

Most people find a combination of tailored approaches is the best way to address chronic pain.

For more information about chronic pain and management, we’d recommend reading the American Chronic Pain Association’s Guide to Chronic Pain Management or visit the Chronic Pain Information Page on the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke website.

References

  1. Institute for Chronic Pain (2017). What is Chronic Pain? [Online]. Available from: https://www.instituteforchronicpain.org/understanding-chronic-pain/what-is-chronic-pain [Accessed 13 December 2020].
  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2018). Prevalence of Chronic Pain and High-Impact Chronic Pain Among Adults — United States, 2016 [Online]. Available from: https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/67/wr/pdfs/mm6736a2-H.pdf [Accessed 13 December 2020].
  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2018). Prevalence of Chronic Pain and High-Impact Chronic Pain Among Adults — United States, 2016 [Online]. Available from: https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/67/wr/mm6736a2.htm [Accessed 13 December 2020].
  4. Institute of Medicine (US) Committee on Advancing Pain Research, Care, and Education (2011). Relieving Pain in America: A Blueprint for Transforming Prevention, Care, Education, and Research. [Online]. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK92525/ [Accessed 19 December 2020].
  5. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2006). Health, United States, 2006 [Online]. Available from: https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/hus/hus06.pdf [Accessed 19 December 2020].
  6. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (see footnote 2)
  7. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (see footnote 3)
  8. American Chronic Pain Association (2020). ACPA – Stanford Resource Guide To Chronic Pain Management [Online]. Available from: https://www.theacpa.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/ACPA-Resource-Guide-2020-Final-draft.pdf [Accessed 13 December 2020].
  9. StatPearls (2020). Chronic Pain Syndrome [Online]. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK470523/ [Accessed 13 December 2020].
  10. American Chronic Pain Association (see footnote 8)
  11. American Pain Society (2012). Chronic pain costs U.S. up to $635 billion, study shows [Online]. Available from: https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/09/120911091100.htm [Accessed 13 December 2020].
  12. American Pain Society (see footnote 11)
  13. ASA Monitor (2014). The Global Burden Of Chronic Pain [Online]. Available from: https://pubs.asahq.org/monitor/article-abstract/78/6/24/3059/The-Global-Burden-Of-Chronic-Pain?redirectedFrom=fulltext [Accessed 19 December 2020].
  14. ASA Monitor (see footnote 13)
  15. ASA Monitor (see footnote 13)
  16. WebMD (2020). What Is Chronic Pain Syndrome? [Online]. Available from: https://www.webmd.com/pain-management/chronic-pain-syndrome-overview#1 [Accessed 05 January 2021].
  17. National Sleep Foundation (2015). 2015 Sleep in America™ Poll Finds Pain a Significant Challenge When It Comes to Americans’ Sleep [Online]. Available from: https://www.sleepfoundation.org/press-release/2015-sleep-americatm-poll-finds-pain-significant-challenge-when-it-comes-americans [Accessed 13 December 2020].
  18. National Sleep Foundation (2020). Pain and Sleep [Online]. Available from: https://www.sleepfoundation.org/physical-health/pain-and-sleep [Accessed 13 December 2020].
  19. Hindawi (2017). The Link between Depression and Chronic Pain: Neural Mechanisms in the Brain [Online]. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5494581/ [Accessed 13 December 2020].
  20. Annals of Internal Medicine (2018). Chronic Pain Among Suicide Decedents, 2003 to 2014: Findings From the National Violent Death Reporting System [Online]. Available from: https://www.acpjournals.org/doi/10.7326/M18-0830 [Accessed 13 December 2020].
  21. Annals of Internal Medicine (see footnote 20)
  22. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2020). Opioid Overdose [Online]. Available from: https://www.cdc.gov/drugoverdose/opioids/prescribed.html [Accessed 13 December 2020].
  23. American Chronic Pain Association (see footnote 8)
  24. StatPearls (see footnote 9)
  25. American Chronic Pain Association (see footnote 8)
  26. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (see footnote 22)
  27. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2018). 2018 ANNUAL SURVEILLANCE REPORT OF DRUG-RELATED RISKS AND OUTCOMES [Online]. Available from: https://www.cdc.gov/drugoverdose/pdf/pubs/2018-cdc-drug-surveillance-report.pdf [Accessed 13 December 2020].
  28. CBS News (2016). Drug overdoses now kill more Americans than guns [Online]. Available from: https://www.cbsnews.com/news/drug-overdose-deaths-heroin-opioid-prescription-painkillers-more-than-guns/ [Accessed 13 December 2020].
  29. The National Academies of Science Engineering Medicine (2017). Trends in Opioid Use, Harms, and Treatment [Online]. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK458661/ [Accessed 13 December 2020].