Statistics from the CDC website indicate that chronic pain affects more than 20% of the adult population in the U.S.; however, there has been no research indicating whether the prevalence of chronic pain changes over time. In a recently published article summarized on the Medical News Today website, researchers conducted a study that attempted to gain a better understanding of the changing rates of chronic pain among adults in the U.S. as well as identify the factors that may contribute to these changes.

The new research, published in the journal Demography, revealed that the overall prevalence of chronic pain for all demographics of adults in the U.S is increasing. The researchers also found correlations between an individual’s mental and physical health and a greater prevalence of chronic pain, and they noted that chronic pain can have a considerable negative effect on a person’s well-being as well as “the economic balance sheet of populations.”

The researchers analyzed data from the National Health Interview Survey for the years 2002 to 2018. Each year, the survey received responses from 19,040 to 32,149 individuals, with a total of 441,707 participants. Information obtained from the survey covered several facets of the respondents’ health, including their experiences with chronic pain. The survey was particularly useful because it questioned respondents about five common sites of pain: the lower back, the neck, the face and jaw, the joints, and the head; consequently, the researchers gained a deeper understanding of which pain sites were most prevalent.  

The survey also provided extensive demographic data on the respondents, as well as information on their health and well-being. It was found that the prevalence of chronic pain had increased for all demographics, although it had risen more in older adults and African American male respondents with less education and a lower income than in Caucasian female participants with higher incomes and levels of education. Dr. Hanna Grol-Prokopczyk, associate professor of sociology in the University at Buffalo College of Arts and Sciences and coauthor of the article, stated, “We looked at the data from every available perspective, including age, gender, race, ethnicity, education, and income, but the results were always the same: There was an increase in pain no matter how we classified the population. You might think that with medical advances, we’d be getting healthier and experiencing less pain, but the data strongly suggest the exact opposite.”

The researchers also noted that reports of chronic pain in at least one of the five sites rose by 10% during the study period, representing an increase of 10.5 million individuals. Additionally, a growing disparity was observed in who experiences pain: Individuals whose household income was four times the poverty level had a 14% increase in the risk of experiencing chronic pain. However, those whose income was only twice the poverty level had a 42% increase. Lastly, in individuals between the ages of 65 and 84 years, physical-health issues were correlated with chronic-pain incidence; these factors included high body-mass index, diabetes, kidney issues, and hypertension. With regard to younger and middle-aged individuals, mental-health issues such as distress and alcohol were more prominent among those with chronic pain.

The researchers noted that, in supporting patients with chronic pain, it is vital that clinicians recognize the complex underlying factors that may contribute to the manifestation of chronic pain. In an interview, lead author Dr. Anna Zajacova stated, “The U.S. healthcare system focuses on procedures and medications. For pain, however, the focus needs to shift to prevention and management, including support of self-management and interdisciplinary conservative treatment approaches. While medicine recognizes the ‘biopsychosocial roots’ of chronic pain, clinicians are often compelled to look for an underlying, hopefully treatable, physical condition.” Dr. Zajacova continued, “Yet chronic pain is an extremely complex phenomenon, and physicians must consider the psychosocial drivers of their patient’s pain from work, family, or financial stress, social support, and overall, the social world they live in.”

The content contained in this article is for informational purposes only. The content is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice. Reliance on any information provided in this article is solely at your own risk.

« Click here to return to OTC Update.