But for almost everyone, pain is what matters. "It's pain that brings
people into the doctor's office," says Penney Cowan, executive director of
the American Chronic Pain Association. "It's pain that they want
Pain has emerged as a devastating public health problem. According to the
American Chronic Pain Association, pain is the No. 1 cause of adult disability
in the U.S. At least one out of six people live with chronic pain.
Putting a Dollar Sign on Debilitating Pain
Yet estimates for the economic impact of pain vary. A 2003 study published
in The Journal of the American Medical Association put the cost at $61.2
billion per year. But that's only the money drained from U.S. businesses
because of productivity lost from employees in pain. It only included
arthritis, back pain, headache, and other musculoskeletal pain; other kinds of
chronic pain were excluded.
And while looking at pain's bottom line is important, no price can be put on
the enormous suffering it causes.
"The costs are incalculable," says Christopher L. Edwards, PhD,
assistant professor of psychiatry at Duke University School of Medicine.
"How do you estimate the value of lost self-worth? How do you estimate the
loss of family, friends, and a sense of accomplishment?"
What is causing all of this pain -- and cost? For the most part, it's the
And studies show the incidence of pain seems about the same among age
groups. What changes is the type of pain.
For example, people in their 20s and 30s are more likely to suffer from
debilitating headaches. The incidence of back pain peaks in middle age. The
elderly often face arthritis and other painful conditions, like shingles. What
unites these groups is the pain itself -- and the hidden costs that can change