Pain Is Getting More Painful, Study Shows

FEBRUARY 09, 2017
Caitlyn Fitzpatrick
pain management, chronic pain, geriatrics, education, economic, socioeconomic

Is life getting more painful? A study from the University of Buffalo (UB) shows that the same age groups are feeling more pain now than they did years ago.

The research concentrated on older Americans and results indicated that those who were poorer and less-educated were more likely to suffer from chronic pain. These findings aren’t exactly revolutionary. Physicians have looked at the connection between chronic pain and sociodemographic factors before, but the UB study found that the link is even stronger than previously thought.

But beyond that, it appears there may be a generational element at work, or other unknown factors related to what’s going on in the world and how people react. The findings show that “people who were in their 60s in 2010 reported more pain than people who were in their 60s in 1998,” according to a UB news release.

National data was collected from 19,776 adults ages 51 and older from 1998 to 2010. At baseline, 27.3% of participants had chronic pain and that number jumped to 36.6% by the end of the analysis—suggesting age brings more pain cases.

When the team looked at socioeconomic factors, they identified significant disparities in pain based on sex, education, and wealth. Chronic pain was 80% more likely in participants who had the least education when compared to those with the most. Severe chronic pain was 370% more likely in people who didn’t finish high school when compared to those with graduate degrees.

“I also looked at pain-related disability, meaning that pain is interfering with the ability to do normal work or household activities,” said Hanna Grol-Prokopczyk, PhD, an assistant professor in UB’s Department of Sociology. “And again, people with less wealth and education are more likely to experience this disability.”

One reason why researchers are studying this area of chronic pain is because of the opioid epidemic. While prescription drugs can help alleviate painful conditions, the risk for addiction, overdose, and even death is alarming.

“We don’t have particularly good treatments for chronic pain. If opioids are to some extent being taken off the table, it becomes even more important to find other ways of addressing this big public health problem,” Grol-Prokopczyk explained.

Identifying high-risk factors among a growing group of people with pain can help ease symptoms and reduce the need for opioids. While more research is needed to understand the unequal pain distribution, this UB study affirmed various factors that put people more at risk.

“In part, this study should be a reminder that many people are legitimately suffering from pain,” Grol-Prokopczyk concluded. “Health care providers shouldn’t assume that someone who shows up in their office complaining of pain is just trying to get an opioid prescription.”

The study, “Sociodemographic disparities in chronic pain, based on 12-year longitudinal data,” was published in the journal PAIN. The news release was provided by UB.

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