What Is the State of Pain in America?
About 1 in 4 adults in the United States experiences chronic pain, which is defined as an issue that persists after three months or an expected recovery period. []
That makes it one of the most common conditions that people speak to their doctors and caregivers about each year.
The cause of chronic pain is sometimes obvious. It could come from a long-lasting health condition, such as cancer or arthritis. Some people have diseases or injuries that make them more susceptible to feeling pain as the body changes during the healing process to become more sensitive. []
An injury, such as a broken bone or a sprain, can leave some people with chronic pain. It can also be tied to issues that don’t involve physical illnesses or injuries, especially when there are below-normal endorphin levels in the blood.
What Does Chronic Pain Feel Like to People?
Pain sensations are unique to each individual. What is bothersome to one person might be an issue that someone else can ignore.
When you ask someone how they’re feeling with a chronic pain flare-up, you’ll receive a multitude of descriptions. This discomfort can cause aching, burning, stinging, throbbing, and stiffness.
Some people describe their chronic pain as stiffness or squeezing sensations. When it “pulses” to create severe moments of discomfort, it might be called a shooting pain.
When chronic conditions occur, they often lead to other symptoms. It’s not unusual for people to feel overly tired most or all the time, have trouble falling asleep, and experience mood swings. Anxiety and depression are more common when ongoing discomfort is present.
Where Do People Experience Chronic Pain?
Chronic pain for Americans can come in several forms. It appears across the body, delivering a wide range of uncomfortable symptoms that are slightly different for everyone.
Here are some of the most common types of chronic pain that people experience each day.
- Joint pain associated with arthritis.
- Lower back and neck pain.
- Pain associated with a tumor, either benign or malignant.
- Headaches, including migraines.
- Discomfort around the genital region.
- Muscle pain that occurs all over the body.
Even scar tissues are known to cause pain long after they form to help an injury heal.
Another form of discomfort is called neurogenic pain. It occurs when the nerves or other parts of the central nervous system are injured or damaged. If you’ve experienced the pins and needles sensation when a foot or hand “falls asleep,” you have an idea of what this issue would feel like as a chronic condition.
When people feel pain, they want to get rid of it.
How Is Chronic Pain Diagnosed?
Chronic pain doesn’t need to be constant to be a problem for many people. If it comes and goes for more than three months, a person’s condition meets the criteria to receive this diagnosis.
It’s important to remember that pain is usually a symptom of something else. When a healthcare provider can determine what causes a person’s discomfort, it’s generally easier to treat the condition.
Since pain is a subjective experience, it’s up to the individual experiencing the concern to identify and describe what is happening to them. An interview facilitates this process, especially when the following questions are asked. []
- Does something make the chronic pain feel worse or better?
- How much does this issue affect your life? Your work? Your daily living activities?
- How intense is the pain, and how often does it occur?
- Is there a lot of anxiety or stress present?
- Have there been any recent injuries, surgeries, or illnesses?
Depending on a patient’s circumstances, healthcare providers might order blood or imaging tests to help determine what causes the chronic pain.
Multiple treatment options are available that don’t require someone to take prescription medications that could be addictive.
Why Do Americans Experience so Much Pain?
Although chronic pain develops for numerous reasons, two trends are seen in the United States more than in most other countries: opioid use and obesity. []
Americans live in a “get-it-fixed” culture. They have a fast-paced lifestyle that doesn’t allow for much downtime for treatment. If you can take a pill to keep going, that choice is often encouraged. []
Europeans often report higher rates of chronic pain, yet the issue isn’t as relevant because they’re more likely than Americans to seek natural or alternative therapies.
Americans trust drugs because they want fast and affordable health solutions. Most other countries don’t trust pharmaceutical companies to the same extent. Until that perspective shifts some, the state of pain in the United States will likely worsen before it gets better.