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32 Chronic Pain Statistics to Help You Understand Your Health

Written by Karen Selby

Chronic pain is defined as persistent pain lasting at least three months. It has many underlying causes, from arthritis to cancer and more. It affects more than 50 million adults in the U.S. and costs the nation up to $635 billion annually.

Chronic pain prevalence is expected to increase in the coming years due to the aging population, the increase in diabetes and the increase in cancer survival rates. As a result, chronic pain research and management will become increasingly important.

To help patients better understand the state of chronic pain in the U.S., The Mesothelioma Center compiled 32 key statistics on the prevalence, treatment and cost of chronic pain. Explore them below.

Read on to learn about:

Prevalence of Chronic Pain in the U.S.

If you’re not directly impacted by chronic pain, chances are you know someone who is. Advances in medication and treatment make it easy to overlook how many people suffer every day.

  • More than 1 in 5 adults in the U.S. experience chronic pain. (source)

  • Approximately 8% of adults have high-impact chronic pain. (source)

  • Most (84%) of high-impact chronic pain patients are unable to work outside of the home. (source)

  • Chronic pain is the No. 1 cause of disability and disease burden globally. (source)

Number of adults in the U.S. experiencing chronic pain

Chronic Pain Demographics

Age, gender, education and income all play a role in who experiences chronic pain.

  • Chronic pain is significantly more prevalent in women than men. (source)

  • About 65% of adults ages 65 and older experience chronic pain. (source)

  • Adults with less than a high school education make up 24% to 28% of all chronic pain patients. (source)

  • Adults with public health insurance are more likely to report chronic pain than those with private health insurance. (source)

  • Chronic pain is associated with having a total family income of less than $25,000. (source)

Adults most affected by chronic pain

Types of Chronic Pain

Chronic pain tends to fall within four broad categories: Back pain, headaches, neuropathic pain and joint pain.

  • 80% of adults in the U.S. will experience back pain at some point in their life. (source)

  • More than 4 million people have chronic daily migraines. (source)

  • Chronic neuropathic pain affects 3% to 17% of adults. (source)

  • About 15 million adults report severe joint pain due to arthritis. (source)

Number of adults with severe joint pain

Cancer-Related Chronic Pain

Pain in cancer patients is typically caused by tumors pressing against organs and nerves or when surgeons cut nerves during surgery. Mesothelioma and lung cancer patients often report chest pain because tumors are pressing against the lungs or abdominal cavity. In fact, chronic chest pain is a symptom of respiratory cancers.

  • Approximately 75% of cancer patients live with chronic pain. (source)

  • Women report greater cancer pain severity than men. (source)

  • An estimated 40% of cancer patients experience neuropathic pain. (source)

  • Approximately 20% of lung cancer patients experience pain at the time of their diagnosis. (source)

  • More than 60% of pleural mesothelioma patients report experiencing pain in the chest. (source)

  • Approximately 30% to 50% of peritoneal mesothelioma patients report experiencing pain in the abdomen. (source)

Percentage of cancer patients living with chronic pain

Chronic Pain and Mental Health

Studies have found a link between chronic pain and mental health — specifically, depression, suicide, anxiety and addiction or overdose tendencies.

  • People with chronic pain are three times more likely to develop depression and anxiety than those without chronic pain. (source)

  • Approximately 21% to 29% of patients misuse opioids prescribed for chronic pain. (source)

  • Misuse of prescription opioids causes 17,000 overdose deaths annually. (source)

  • People with chronic pain have at least twice the risk of suicide than those without chronic pain. (source)

Number of people with chronic pain that develop depression and anxiety

The Cost of Chronic Pain

Costs related to chronic pain are staggering, both on a nationwide and individual level. Total costs outweigh those of the four most prominent diseases in America.

  • Chronic pain costs approximately $560 to $635 billion annually in medical expenses, disability programs and lost productivity. (source)

  • The total cost of chronic pain is more than that of cancer, diabetes and heart disease. (source)

  • Prescription opioids cost an average of more than $800 out of pocket annually. (source)

  • Patients with moderate pain pay $4,516 more in annual health care costs than those with no pain. (source)

  • Patients with severe pain pay $3,210 more in annual health care costs than those with moderate pain. (source)

Amount of money paid in health

Treating Chronic Pain

For many, prescription medication offers relief from chronic pain. Always consult your doctor before trying any new treatments or medications.

  • Prescription medication relieves pain in approximately 58% of people living with chronic pain. (source)

  • Approximately 16% to 19% of chronic pain patients receive at least a 90-day supply of prescription opioids. (source)

  • About 95% of cancer-related pain can be successfully treated. (source)

  • Exercise can reduce pain sensitivity by 60%. (source)

  • Only 36% of chronic pain patients report having “good” or “very good” sleep quality. (source)

Percentage of treatable cancer-related pain

Your doctor may recommend pain treatment based on the cause, location and severity of your pain. The following are common treatments for cancer-related pain:

  • Over-the-Counter Medication: Ibuprofen and acetaminophen are commonly taken for mild or moderate pain. They can be obtained without a prescription and the side effects are minimal to none.

  • Prescription Medication: Oxycodone, tramadol and morphine may be prescribed for severe pain. Your doctor may combine these with other medications for pain management.

  • Surgical Procedures: If you’re a candidate, your doctor may suggest surgery. Neurosurgeons are able to block the nerve pathways that carry pain signals to the brain, helping reduce discomfort.

  • Anesthesia: Both regional and local anesthesia in the form of pain blockers or steroids are another option for pain management. They are administered by an anesthesiologist via injection or infusion.

  • Palliative Chemotherapy: If chemotherapy is unable to completely cure cancer, palliative chemotherapy may be able to shrink the tumor, resulting in reduced pain and overall improvement of quality of life.

  • Rest: Rest, mindfulness and engagement in enjoyable activities may help lessen pain, while fatigue may worsen it. Make sure to get plenty of sleep and pay attention to your pain to better understand and work around it.

Visualizing Chronic Pain

For chronic pain stats at a glance, explore our visual below. Whether you’re a cancer patient, caregiver, chronic pain sufferer or simply trying to learn more about this widespread health concern, take note of these science-based facts and figures.

Chronic pain and cancer infographic

Throughout your journey with chronic pain, consistent communication with your doctor is key. If you’re experiencing mesothelioma-related pain, it’s important that you communicate the extent of your mesothelioma symptoms so your medical provider can determine the best treatment. Talk to your doctor about the best medication options, possible side effects and proper dosages. Remember that chronic pain does not define you, and with medical supervision, it doesn’t have to limit you.

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Last Modified April 15, 2020

Registered Nurse and Patient Advocate

Karen Selby joined in 2009. She is a registered nurse with a background in oncology and thoracic surgery and was the regional director of a tissue bank before becoming a Patient Advocate at The Mesothelioma Center. Karen has assisted surgeons with thoracic surgeries such as lung resections, lung transplants, pneumonectomies, pleurectomies and wedge resections. She is also a member of the Academy of Oncology Nurse & Patient Navigators.

Walter Pacheco, Managing Editor at
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The sources on all content featured in The Mesothelioma Center at include medical and scientific studies, peer-reviewed studies and other research documents from reputable organizations.

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