This Many Million Adults May Have Pain Daily

From the WebMD Archives

Aug. 11, 2015 -- A lot of U.S. adults are hurting every day, a new study shows.

The report, which analyzes data from the 2012 National Health Interview Survey, says 25.3 million have daily pain. And 14.4 million have pain at the most severe level.

"This report begins to answer calls for better national data on the nature and extent of the pain problem," says Richard Nahin, PhD, MPH, lead epidemiologist for the National Institutes of Health's National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) and author of the analysis.

"The experience of pain is subjective. It's not surprising then that the data show varied responses to pain even in those with similar levels of pain.”

More digging into the data may help identify people who'd benefit from additional options to treat pain, he says. 

"The number of people who suffer from severe and lasting pain is striking," Josephine P. Briggs, MD, director of the NCCIH, which funded the study, says in a press release.

"This analysis adds valuable new scope to our understanding of pain," Briggs says. The data may help shape future developments on pain treatment, including complementary therapies, she says.

The report is published in the August issue of The Journal of Pain.

Sometimes prescription drugs or other conventional treatments aren't enough to get some people's pain under control, so many Americans turn to complementary health approaches, such as yoga and massage. A research priority of the NCCIH is to determine how well complementary treatments work for easing pain and other symptoms, the press release says.

The National Health Interview Survey is an annual study in which thousands of Americans are interviewed about their health. In the 2012 survey, participants were asked about the frequency and intensity of their pain in the prior 3 months.

The survey results are based on combined data from 8,781 U.S. adults who completed a sub-section of the larger NHIS. Those 8,781 were considered a "representative sample of adults in the U.S.," and were used to statistically reflect the national population, according to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health.

From information they gathered, researchers placed pain into four categories -- based on pain persistence and how much it bothered respondents -- from the least (1) to most severe (4).

They found that:

  • An estimated 126 million adults (55.7%) had some type of pain in the 3 months before the survey.
  • An estimated 23.4 million adults (10.3%) have a lot of pain.
  • 25.4 million adults (11.3%) have category 3 pain.
  • 14.4 million adults (6.4%) have category 4 pain.
  • Adults with category 3 or 4 pain were more likely to have worse health, use more health care, and have more disability than those with less-severe pain. But about half of those with the most severe pain still rated their overall health as good or better.

The study also shows that women, older people, and non-Hispanics were more likely to say they had pain while Asians were less likely. Minorities who chose not to be interviewed in English were markedly less likely to report pain.

The NICCIH funded the study.