1 in 5 Americans Reports Chronic Pain

Nearly one American in five is suffering from chronic pain, according to a USA Today survey.

Chronic pain: The enemy within

A new USA TODAY/ABC News/Stanford University Medical Center poll indicates that 19% of American adults — almost 1 in 5 — say they suffer from chronic pain; 44% have acute, or short-term, pain. Half of the 1,204 respondents cite the source of their discomfort as a medical injury or condition such as joint pain, heart disease or cancer. (The poll’s margin of error is plus or minus 3 percentage points.)

“The problem is absolutely enormous,” says Russell Portenoy, chairman of pain medicine at New York’s Beth Israel Medical Center. “It rivals every serious public-health issue, whether you’re talking about heart disease, cancer, obesity or anything else.”

Still, the burden of pain will grow as the population ages. More than half of patients reporting chronic pain were older than 55.

A study of pain’s effect on worker productivity reported in The Journal of the American Medical Association in November 2003 calculated the cost in the USA at more than $62 billion a year from reduced performance alone. Add in the cost of treatment and lost workdays and the total climbs to an estimated $100 billion, according to the American Pain Foundation.

The story goes on to discuss how ineffective our medical system is at treating pain, which is described as a “stepchild of the medical profession.”

The ABC version of the story paints the picture a bit differently:

Poll: Americans Searching for Pain Relief

More than half of Americans live with chronic or recurrent pain, with broad numbers saying it interferes with their activities, mood and enjoyment of life — sparking a vast search for relief, from medication to bed rest, yoga or the palliative power of prayer.

An exclusive survey by ABC News, USA Today and the Stanford University Medical Center finds that, excluding minor annoyances, just under half of adults have experienced pain in the last two weeks, and nearly four in 10 do so on a regular basis.

Six in 10 Americans rate their last experience with pain as moderate or worse, and for two in 10 — about 40 million individuals — it was severe. Nineteen percent suffer chronic pain, meaning ongoing pain that’s lasted three months or more. An additional 34 percent report recurrent pain; the rest say their usual pain experience is acute, or short-term.

The story includes a chart that breaks down the survey results.

FILED UNDER: Health, Uncategorized, , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. DC Loser says:

    Interesting story. Also interesting is that the feds have been going after doctors prescribing large amounts to pain killers to aggressively treat chronic pain. Just a couple of weeks ago a well publicized case here in NoVa of a well known pain doctor convicted and sentenced for illegal distribution of painkillers, basically they said he was a drug dealer. But his patients swore by him. What to make of this?

  2. McGehee says:

    And yet when a talk-radio personality gets hooked on Oxycontin, all we seem to hear on the subject is what a horrible person he is.

    Obviously there is some rational basis for caution about prescribing painkillers. Furthermore, the overwhelming majority of people enduring pain do so because they can endure it.

  3. wavemaker says:

    Does reading Kos count as enduring pain?

    I have degenerative disk disease and therefore live by this saying:

    “The difference between pain and discomfort is attitude.”

  4. McGehee says:

    Does reading Kos count as enduring pain?

    Actually, when I think of people reading Kos, I think of the monks in Monty Python and the Holy Grail:

    “Pie Iesu domine…” [WHAP!]