Nearly 20 percent (50.2 million) of Americans suffer from chronic pain according to a recent report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In conjunction with Pain Awareness Month, we want you to know that if you suffer from pain, you are not alone. There are many things that can impact your health related to chronic and acute pain. Learn about these pain conditions to be aware of your body, your health, and solutions moving forward.
13 Pain Facts
1. There are three different types of pain: Acute pain, sub-acute pain and chronic pain.
The biggest difference in whether the pain you suffer from is acute, sub-acute, or chronic is measured in length of time. Acute pain can come on suddenly and is typically the result of an incident—broken bone, surgery, childbirth, etc. This type of pain is short-lived (think 2 weeks or less) and generally serves as a protective response to allow healing and recovery from an injury. Acute pain typically goes away after the cause of the pain has healed.
Sub-acute pain is pain that persists beyond a normal period of healing and can often lead to chronic pain if it is not addressed appropriately. Treatment-resistant sub-acute pain is pain that occurs in the sub-acute period that is no longer protective in nature and that may delay rehabilitation.
Chronic pain, on the other hand, is pain that is ongoing and lasts for longer than 3 months. Chronic pain is considered a disease state and may be caused by a variety of issues. Examples of chronic pain include back pain, joint pain, nerve pain, migraines, arthritis, and fibromyalgia.
2. Chronic pain affects physical and emotional elements of the body.
Stress impacts our health and chronic pain is a stressor on our bodies. As such, individuals who suffer from chronic pain may notice additional physical effects on the body such as:
- Limited mobility
- Lack of energy
- Muscle fatigue or tightness
- Appetite changes
Chronic pain, while physical in nature, can also affect your mental state. Those who suffer from chronic pain may feel angry, depressed, anxious, or fearful of re-injury.
3. Back pain, shoulder pain, knee pain, hip pain, and foot pain are some of the most common pain conditions experienced.
According to an analysis of the CDC report data by Harvard researchers, some of the most commonly reported pain locations were in the back, shoulder, hip, knee, and foot. About 41 percent of those surveyed reported suffering from chronic back pain. Shoulder pain was also indicated as a common condition, which is not surprising given that shoulder pain is responsible for about 16 percent of all musculoskeletal complaints, with a yearly incidence of 15 new episodes per 1,000 patients seen in the primary care setting. 
The CDC report data also indicated that about 44 percent of adults surveyed reported suffering from hip pain, knee pain, or foot pain.
4. Chronic back pain can lead to missed workdays and lost income.
The number of individuals reporting chronic back pain from the CDC report data is especially concerning given that back pain is not only the single leading cause of disability worldwide, but one of the most common reasons for missed work. In fact, back pain accounts for more than 264 million lost workdays per year.
5. Chronic pain and high-impact chronic pain are most prevalent among adults aged 65 and over.
The CDC report also found a correlation between the occurrence of pain and age: “Chronic pain and high-impact chronic pain both increased with age and were highest among adults aged 65 and over.”
6. Adults living in rural areas are more likely to experience chronic pain.
Interestingly, the CDC report also found that in addition to age, where a person lives may impact the likelihood that they experience chronic pain. The report found that the “percentage of adults with chronic pain and high-impact chronic pain increased as place of residence became more rural.”
7. About $80 billion a year are lost in wages due to chronic pain.
Finally, the CDC report found that people with chronic pain reported their pain made them unable to work about 10 days a year. People who don’t have chronic pain only miss about three workdays a year the report said. Due to this, about $80 billion are lost in wages each year due to chronic pain.
8. Chronic pain can be associated with decreased health-related quality of life.
As mentioned, chronic pain is often associated with other health conditions that can lead to a lower quality of life including anxiety or depression. In fact, according to Mental Health America (MHA), research has found that people with chronic pain are four times more likely to have depression or anxiety than those who are pain-free. The chronic pain diagnosis process can also be draining; when patients go from doctor to doctor for diagnoses and treatment, the back and forth can cause mental and emotional fatigue.
9. Women are more likely than men to suffer from chronic pain.
Various studies and reports since 2003 have found that women are more likely to experience pain than men. In 2020, the CDC found that women were 21.7 percent more likely to have chronic pain than men. Additionally, according to Dr. Carolyn Mazure in an interview with NPR, women are more likely to have chronic headaches, low back pain, and neck pain.
The following insights have also been discovered about women and pain:
- The female body has a more intense natural response to painful stimuli
- Women have greater nerve density than men that may cause them to feel pain more intensely
- Female hormones fluctuate naturally and may amplify the body’s perception of pain (e.g., when estrogen levels are low, pain receptor activity is elevated, and the body feels more pain)
- Women are at a greater risk for conditions that may cause chronic pain
10. One in four people with chronic pain also suffer from a sleep disorder.
According to Sleep Foundation, chronic pain can impact sleep in a variety of ways including overall shorter sleep time or nighttime wakings. And according to the Sleep Medicine – the official journal of the World Sleep Society, various sleep disturbances and sleep disorders have been observed in adults with chronic pain including obstructive sleep apnea and restless leg syndrome.
11. Poorer sleep can lead to increases in pain.
Researchers have found a bidirectional relationship between sleep and pain. When you have a good night’s rest, pain may be alleviated. When sleep is poor, you may experience a heightened sensitivity to pain. Specifically, short sleep times, fragmented sleep, and poor sleep quality have been identified as causes of heightened pain sensitivity.
12. Opioid addiction is a dangerous possibility for people suffering from pain.
According to the CDC, in 2017 more than 191 million opioid prescriptions were dispensed to American patients. Often prescribed following surgery or injury, prescription opioids can be used to treat moderate-to-severe pain, and despite serious risk, opioids have also been prescribed for treating chronic pain. The danger, the CDC says, is how fast addiction can happen. The CDC notes that “as many as one in four patients receiving long-term opioid therapy in a primary care setting struggles with opioid addiction.”
13. You can experience pain from cancer.
Pain from cancer can be caused by the cancer itself or by surgeries, treatments or tests related to the cancer. Pain that is caused by cancer directly often is caused by a tumor pressing on nerves, bones, or organs. Examples of cancer-related pain from a tumor include spinal cord compression and bone pain. Pain that is caused indirectly by cancer – surgery, treatments, or tests – includes post-operative pain, phantom pain, peripheral neuropathy (chemotherapy-induced neuropathy when caused by chemotherapy), mouth sores (from chemo or radiation), and other radiation injuries such as skin burns.
How to Manage Pain
Many chronic pain treatment options exist.
When treating chronic pain, the treatment that works best for one type of pain or patient may not necessarily work the same for another kind of pain or another patient. Sometimes a combination of treatment options is needed to treat chronic pain. Some of the chronic pain treatments physicians may leverage include:
- Peripheral nerve stimulation (PNS)
- Radiofrequency ablation (RFA)
- Trigger point injections
- Spinal cord stimulation implants
- Infusion pain pumps (also known as spinal drug delivery systems or intrathecal drug delivery)
- Nerve blocks
Additionally, other less or non-invasive options are available such as transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation therapy (TENS), nonprescription and prescription medications, bioelectric therapy, acupuncture, massage, and mind-body therapies.
Understanding your pain treatment options is the first step in improving your quality of life that is impacted by chronic pain. Talk with your physician for the best pain treatment plans and options that will keep you on the path to the lifestyle you want so that you can continue to do the things you love.
TIP: A physician trained in interventional pain management will have access to tools and techniques that other physicians without this specific training may not. Additionally, most interventional pain management physicians are board certified in anesthesia or in physical medicine and rehabilitation (PM&R). To find a physician who is an expert in pain management, consider searching for an “interventional pain management physician.”
Chronic pain does not define you; there are options.
 1. Urwin M, Symmons D, Alison T, et al. Estimating the burden of musculoskeletal disorders in the community: the comparative prevalence of symptoms at different anatomical sites, and the relation to social deprivation. Ann Rheum Dis. 1998;57(11):649–655.
2. van der Windt DA, Koes BW, de Jong BA, Bouter LM. Shoulder disorders in general practice: incidence, patient characteristics, and management. Ann Rheum Dis. 1995;54(12):959–964.
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