Millions more Americans suffering from chronic pain

May 18, 2021

If you are an American, you may suffer from chronic pain and probably know someone who does. New research looking at a pool of 441,000 people who responded to a national survey in 2002-2018, saw 10 million more Americans saying they suffered from chronic pain.

That's every adult age group, every demographic group, even every subsequent birth group finding it worse than the group before -- all suffering from agonizing and penetrating pain that makes life so difficult.

University at Buffalo sociologist Hanna Grol-Prokopczyk is one of three authors of the new study, published in the journal "Demography," looking at the issue. She said the results do vary geographically, with Western New York doing better than some others.

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"We are not the part of the country with the highest levels of pain," Grol-Prokopczyk said. "I've been working on a geographic study and you actually find substantially higher levels of pain in the South and the Pacific Northwest. So however snow or icy it is around here, whatever it is around here, we aren't facing the worst pain, necessarily, in the country."

She said pain, even though a physical health problem, is very closely connected with psychological well-being or the lack thereof. Some causes are clear, like obesity, alcohol use and stress.

"Managing stress is also an important part of a pain reduction strategy. Now I say that, knowing that it's easier said that done," Grol-Prokopczyk said. "Some people have very stressful lives and for me to just say, 'Meditate five minutes a day and you'll be fine,' life doesn't work that way."

There's also physically hard repetitive work and diseases like cancer. The research shows long-term use of opioids can make the pain worse over time, as well.

At the same time, she said many causes aren't well understood.