More Americans Are Living With Chronic Pain Than A Few Years Back – A Study Found

Chronic Pain
November 28, 2022

Summary: As doctors are under increased pressure to taper their patients to lower opioid dosage or take them off opioids, some experts have raised concerns that this may not be the right time to do so. A new study suggests that the prevalence of chronic pain has increased in different population groups, both young and older adults and people of different backgrounds. In the last sixteen years, reports of chronic pain have increased by 10%. That is a statistically significant increase.

It is no secret that doctors are under immense pressure not to prescribe opioids. Every prescription is scrutinized by regulatory agencies, in pharmacies. Some prescriptions are even reported to DEA. Hence, doctors are increasingly hesitant to prescribe opioids.

However, most people overlook the fact that this increased need to prescribe is fueled by a higher occurrence of chronic pain. Therefore, when considering opioid abuse or overdose in the national context, it is also essential to consider the pain relief these drugs provide. Many medications like opioids are life-changing and the only drugs that help overcome pain in many cases.

Now, a new study has come up with startling findings that the prevalence of chronic pain has increased considerably during the last two decades.

Studies suggest that more than half of Americans would experience pain requiring treatment during the year. A total of about 20% of the population is living with chronic pains. However, about 8-9% of the population is living with severe chronic pain, which may benefit from opioids. These numbers are already massive, and it is alarming to hear that they are increasing yearly.

As the researchers noticed that people think that the prevalence of chronic pain must be less due to advances in medical science. However, people fail to understand that medicine has increased their lifespan. Therefore, it is really not able to treat many health conditions with much success. Thus, although many people with severe ailments benefit from progress in medical science, others have to live with constant pain.

The researchers say that they were surprised to see that chronic pain has increased over the years. Thus, they tried to look at the data in various ways. For example, they considered things like age, gender, ethnicity, race, education, income, and more. However, to their surprise, the incidence of chronic pain has increased in the very population group1.

For the study, researchers analyzed the data of 441000 respondents from the National Health Interview Survey (NHIS) from 2002 to 2018. Moreover, they paid special attention to young adults. To their surprise, chronic pain issues are increasing even in young adults. They analyzed reports of migraine, jaw pain, cluster headaches, and joint and low back pain.

The study found that there has been, on average, a 10% increase in chronic pain in the last 16 years. This was true for almost all kinds of pain sites. That is a significant increase.

Of course, the increase was more in the older adults, and that should not come as a surprise, as these are people living with higher BMI and metabolic disorders, hypertension, and diabetes, and thus more likely to from chronic pain. Especially adults aged 65 to 84 years are at a greater risk.

When it comes to social disparities, the study found that socioeconomic disparities are relevant, as chronic pain is more common in deprived groups. Nonetheless, the study found that chronic pain increased in all the groups.

The study had concerning findings, as it found that chronic pain increased in all Americans of different age groups with different health conditions and backgrounds.

Of course, there are some unanswered questions. For example, it is unclear if Americans are really experiencing more pain or reporting more pain in the hope of opioid prescription. Nonetheless, it does appear that people might be reporting pain just to get an opioid prescription. It is more likely that people are now more aware. Further, since they know that opioids can help, they are more likely to seek treatment.

Researchers say they are not advocating for greater opioid use, as they realize that opioids might have also contributed to more reported pain. Nonetheless, these findings cannot be neglected altogether.


By Gurpreet Singh Padda, MD, MBA