Is Chronic Pain on the Rise?
Chronic pain relief becomes critical as baby boomers age.
As the first baby boomers hit their 60s, many are finding life hurts a bit
more than it once did. Whether playing tennis, lifting a basket of laundry, or
just getting out of bed, pain -- for some, chronic pain -- is a new
"We have an aging population," says Robert Bonakdar, MD, director of
pain management at the Scripps Center for Integrative Medicine in La Jolla,
Calif. "As the baby boomers get older, we're going to have more and more
people with chronic back pain, osteoarthritis" and other painful
But while previous generations may have been more willing to accept pain as
an inevitable consequence of aging, experts say many baby boomers won't stand
"I think that baby boomers are less likely to accept the status
quo," says Steven P. Cohen, MD, an anesthesiologist in the division of pain
medicine at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. "They have a sense of
entitlement. Living the rest of their lives in chronic pain is just
The good news is that they're right. Just because some painful illnesses
become more common as you get older doesn't mean you're doomed to suffer. You
should not accept living in chronic pain -- not when plenty of treatments offer
Chronic Pain: Why Are We Hurting?
The causes of pain aren't so surprising. As people age, their sins catch up
with them. A lifetime of minor injuries -- a stress fracture from jogging in
your 30s, a bad back from lifting a couch in your 40s -- can add up to serious
"You see a lot of back pain, neck pain, knee pain, joint pain, and pain
from falls, and tears and other injuries in baby boomers," says Christopher
L. Edwards, PhD, assistant professor of psychiatry and medical director of the
Biofeedback Laboratory at Duke University School of Medicine.
The boomer generation can be stubborn about fitness, says Edwards. "Some
baby boomers have the same exercise regimen at age 60 that they had thirty
years before," Edwards tells WebMD. "Their bodies can't keep up with
And while keeping active is important at every age, unfortunately bones
weaken and muscles atrophy over time. These are facts of life. If you push
yourself too hard, you can get hurt. Sometimes, that injury becomes a source of
Disease can play a hand, too. Pain can stem from arthritis, diabetes, and
cancer. Pain after surgery can become chronic. Painful syndromes, like
fibromyalgia and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), also cause suffering.
"With almost every medical condition, the incidence of pain increases
with age," says Cohen.
Is Chronic Pain More Common Now?
As baby boomers age, the number of people with painful conditions like
osteoarthritis will rise. Current estimates of those living with chronic pain
range from 50-65 million. But is the average person more likely to be in pain
than he or she used to be? Experts aren't sure.