The majority of Americans – 58.9 percent of adults – live with pain. Back pain is the most common type of pain, affecting nearly 2 in 5 adults in the United States in the past three months, according to a report from the National Center for Health Statistics.
“This poll provides numbers on something we have long observed in the community,” said Whitney Luke, MD, a pain medicine specialist at Ohio State University’s Wexner Medical Center in Columbus.
“There are many things that contribute to chronic pain. An initial or acute injury to a body part can be the cause, ”says Dr. Hatch. Lifestyle factors like physical inactivity, poor sleep, stress, smoking, and untreated depression or anxiety are also linked to higher levels of pain, she says.
The data used in the report comes from the redesigned National Health Interview Survey 2019, which is maintained year-round by the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS). The answers were collected via a questionnaire from a randomly selected adult in a total of 31,997 households.
Back pain is more common in older adults, women, white Americans, and people with lower household incomes
A total of 39 percent of people had back pain in the past three months, a condition that was more common in older age groups; Back pain has been reported by approximately 44 percent of adults ages 45 to 64 and 45 percent of people 65 and over. Women were more likely to have back pain than men – 40.6 percent versus 37.2 percent.
White Americans were most likely to report back pain (42.7 percent) compared to Black Americans (35.8 percent), Hispanic (31.2 percent), and Asian Americans (24.5 percent).
A higher household income made people less likely to report back pain. In homes with incomes less than 100 percent of the federal poverty line (FPL), 44.8 adults had back pain, compared with 37.6 percent of adults living in the home who earned 200 percent of the FPL.
Elderly people who live with pain
People aged 65 and older were more likely to experience pain than any other age group; In addition to a higher prevalence of back pain, 42 percent had arm, hand, or shoulder pain compared to 30.7 percent of the general population, and 50.3 percent had hip and leg pain compared to 36.5 percent of the population.
Thanks to medical breakthroughs and management, we’re living longer than ever, but we weren’t really made to live to be 90 or 100, says Luke.
According to Statista, a provider of marketing and consumer data, the average American’s life expectancy was 53 years in 1920, compared to 78 years in 2020. “Unfortunately, our bodies just wear out. As we get older, we get more and more arthritic discomfort in our joints and spine, which can also contribute to pain, ”she says.
As you age, poor sleep can also be a problem, which is also linked to pain, she adds.
Living below the federal poverty line increases the likelihood of pain
The federal poverty line (FPL) for an individual is a household income of $ 12,800 per year and for a family of four a household income of $ 26,500 under the Health and Social Services Guidelines (HHS) 2021. According to the report, people living under the FPL had Back, hip and leg pain as well as arm, hand and shoulder pain were more common than households above the FPL.
“There have been a lot of studies that have shown a high correlation between socioeconomic status and pain – there is definitely a health inequality here,” says Luke.
Many factors contribute to people living in poverty experiencing more pain, she says. “Could it be that they have no access to medical care because of other chronic illnesses and that this is adding to their pain? Could it be that they are very anxious or not sleeping due to their economic situation? It’s very complex and I don’t know if we can pinpoint anything, ”says Luke.
A lack of physical activity can contribute to a chronic pain cycle
Being physically inactive for long periods of time can lead to a chronic pain cycle, she says. “You want to do more, but you’re more deconditioned and it hurts, and then you avoid physical activity, which can lead to more pain,” says Luke.
Sometimes this can be improved by changing the way you think about it, she says. “Just because something hurts doesn’t mean it’s harmful or bad for you – knowing and accepting that can help people,” says Luke.
Talk to your doctor about a safe way to increase your activity level and find an exercise program or activity that you enjoy, she suggests.
To live with pain? Contact your doctor for help
If you’re living with pain, be sure to schedule an appointment with your doctor and discuss your symptoms so you can get an appropriate evaluation and diagnosis, says Luke.
“It could be an anatomical problem that is causing the pain that might require surgery. For example, if you have very bad osteoarthritis of the knee or hip, you could be a candidate for knee or hip replacement, ”she says.
Your doctor may be able to make recommendations about non-surgical procedures, such as a joint injection for hip pain or an epidural steroid injection for back pain, she says. “You may also be able to recommend non-opioid drugs that can solve the problem,” Luke adds.
There are also important lifestyle factors that can help relieve pain, including a healthy weight, diet, improved sleep, physical activity, and quitting smoking, she says.