Study Shows “Steep and Sustained” Increases in Chronic Pain Among Americans

chronic pain study

In 2012, the annual economic cost of pain in the United States was estimated at more than $600 billion and has likely increased since then.  Nationally, the number of people experiencing chronic pain exceeds those affected by heart disease, cancer, and diabetes combined.

Unfortunately, chronic pain is not discussed as often as it should be.  It’s a subject that can be highly subjective since everyone’s experience is different.  The causes and symptoms of chronic pain vary from person to person, depending on age, pre-existing conditions, and more.  However, not many studies have taken a close look at how these factors influence chronic pain.

Earlier this year, a research study was published about pain trends among Americans, with data spanning from 2002-2018.  This time frame allowed for a much larger data set to be gathered, compared to earlier studies.  Whereas most studies on chronic pain tend to focus on older age groups, this study expanded that range and gathered data on people from age 25 all the way to 84.  This study not only reveals the increasing trends in pain, but also provides evidence of what may be the source of this steady climb.

“What we’re seeing in the younger age groups demonstrates how pain in some ways functions as much as a mental health problem as it does a physical health problem,” says coauthor Hanna Grol-Prokopczyk, associate professor of sociology in the University at Buffalo. “Pain can be exacerbated by stress, and stress can bring about alcohol use.”

The study reveals how other factors in addition to alcohol use play a role in perceived pain levels, such as smoking, income, education, body mass index (BMI), arthritis, exercise and more.

Although the world has been consumed by the COVID-19 pandemic, chronic pain is also extremely detrimental to the US population.  It warrants additional testing, research studies, and attention from both government and health officials as it can have lasting and devastating effects to the health of the US population.

“Pain is a leading cause of disability and there is evidence that pain has an impact on life expectancy,” says Grol-Prokopczyk. “So the problem is one not only affecting quality of life, but potentially even quantity of life.”

Read the full study here.

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