The majority of Americans — 58.9 percent of adults — are living with pain. Back pain is the most common type of pain, affecting nearly 2 out of 5 U.S. adults in the last three months, according to the findings from a report released by the National Center for Health Statistics.
“This survey gives numbers to something that we’ve been seeing in the population for a long time,” says Whitney Luke, MD, a pain medicine specialist at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center in Columbus.
“There’s a lot of things that contribute to chronic pain. An initial or acute injury to a part of the body can be the cause,” says Dr. Luke. Lifestyle factors, such as physical inactivity, poor sleep, stress, smoking, and unmanaged depression or anxiety are also linked to experiencing higher levels of pain, she says.
The data used in the report came from the redesigned 2019 National Health Interview Survey, which is administered throughout the year by the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS). The answers were collected via a questionnaire completed by one randomly selected adult in a total of 31,997 households.
Back Pain More Prevalent in Older Adults, Women, White Americans, and People With a Lower Household Income
A total of 39 percent of people had back pain in the last three months, a condition that was more common in older age groups; back pain was reported by about 44 percent of adults ages 45 to 64 and 45 percent of people 65 and older. Women were more likely to have back pain than men — 40.6 percent compared with 37.2 percent.
White Americans were the mostly likely to report back pain (42.7 percent) compared with Black Americans (35.8 percent), Hispanic (31.2 percent), and Asian Americans (24.5 percent).
A higher household income made it less likely for people to report back pain. In houses with an income of less than 100 percent of the federal poverty level (FPL), 44.8 adults had back pain compared with 37.6 percent of adults living in house that earned 200 percent of the FPL.
Older People Living With Pain
People ages 65 and older were more likely to have pain than any other age group; in addition to having a higher prevalence of back pain, 42 percent had arm, hand, or shoulder pain compared with 30.7 percent for the population overall, and 50.3 percent had pain in their hips and legs compared with 36.5 percent of the population.
Thanks to medical breakthroughs and management we are living longer than ever, but we weren’t really designed to live to be 90 or 100 years old, says Luke.
In 1920, the life expectancy for the average American was 53 years old compared with 78 years old in 2020, according to Statista, a provider of marketing and consumer data. “Unfortunately, our bodies are just wearing down. As we get older, we end up with more arthritic ailments in our joints and our spine which can also contribute to pain,” she says.
Poor sleep can also be an issue as we get older, which is also associated with pain, she adds.
Living Below the Federal Poverty Level Increases the Likelihood of Pain
The federal poverty level (FPL) for an individual is a household income of $12,800 a year, and for a family of four people, it’s a household income of $26,500, according to the 2021 Health and Human Services (HHS) Guidelines. People living below the FPL were more likely to have back pain, hip and leg pain, and arm, hand, and shoulder pain compared with households above the FPL, according to the report.
“There have been a lot of studies that have shown a high correlation between socioeconomic status and pain — there’s definitely a healthcare disparity that exists here,” says Luke.
Many factors contribute to why people living in poverty have more pain, she says. “Could it be they don’t have access to healthcare for other chronic conditions and that contributes to their pain? Could it be they are highly anxious or not sleeping because of their economic situation? It’s highly complex, and I don’t know that we can pinpoint one thing,” says Luke.
A Lack of Physical Activity Can Contribute to Chronic Pain Cycle
When you’ve been physically inactive for a long time, it can lead to a chronic pain cycle, she says. “You want to do more, but you’re more deconditioned and it hurts, and then you avoid physical activity, which can lead to more pain,” says Luke.
Sometimes this can be improved by changing your mindset, she says. “Just because something hurts doesn’t mean it’s harming or is bad for you — knowing and accepting that can be helpful for people,” says Luke.
Talk with your doctor about a safe way to up your activity level and find an exercise program or activity that you enjoy, she suggests.
Living With Pain? See Your Doctor for Help
If you are living with pain, you should definitely make an appointment with your doctor and talk through your symptoms so that you can have the appropriate workup and get diagnosed, says Luke.
“It could be an anatomical problem causing the pain that there could be an intervention for. For example, if you have very bad joint arthritis in the knee or the hip, you may be a candidate for a knee or hip replacement,” she says.
Your physician may be able to make recommendations on nonsurgical interventions, such as a joint injection for hip pain or an epidural steroid injection for back pain, she says. “They may be able to recommend non-opioid medications that can help the issue, too,” adds Luke.
There are also important lifestyle factors that may help improve pain, which include achieving a healthy weight, eating a healthy diet, improving sleep, being physically active and not smoking, she says.
This content was originally published here.