According to recent research published in the journal Pain, pain is on the rise in America - but it's not evenly distributed. Certain socioeconomic groups are currently at a much higher risk than others. Some may even be 370% more likely to experience severe pain.
The study, completed by University at Buffalo medical sociologist Hanna Grol-Prokopczyk, utilized data from 19,776 adults aged 51 and older. Instead of focusing on a single point in time, the researcher followed the participants over 12 years, from 1998 to 2010, using information gathered from the Health and Retirement Study.
While most studies on the topic have examined only if people had pain or not, Grol-Prokopczyk’s research went one step further, asking whether the pain was mild, moderate or severe – with interesting results.
One of the most surprising findings to come out of the study is that chronic pain levels are on the rise. As it turns out, people who were in their 60s in 2010 are experiencing more pain than those who were in their 60s in 1998.
Furthermore, there is an extreme disparity when it comes to the people who are experiencing the most severe pain. People with less wealth and lower levels of education are far more likely to suffer from more severe pain and disability than those who are more privileged. While this trend was generally known beforehand, the extent of the disparity was a surprise. According to the research, chronic pain is 80% more likely to occur in the least educated people compared to the most eudcated. And those who didn’t finish high school are 370% more likely to experience severe pain when compared to those with graduate degrees. Since severe pain is also the most associated with disability and death, the disadvantaged are most likely to experience those, as well.
Implications for the Future
Currently, it’s not clear why there’s such an unequal distribution of chronic pain in general and severe pain in particular, and Grol-Prokopczyk says more research needs to be done in order to better understand the matter. But what is clear is that there’s a rapidly increasing need for effective pain treatments.
“If we as a society decide that opioid analgesics are often too high risk as a treatment for chronic pain,” Grol-Prokopczyk says, “then we need to invest in other effective treatments for chronic pain, and/or figure out how to prevent it in the first place.”
 Grol-Prokopczyk, Hanna. “Sociodemographic Disparities in Chronic Pain, Based on 12-Year Longitudinal Data.” PAIN 158, no. 2 (February 2017): 313–22.
 University at Buffalo. Poor And Less Educated Suffer The Most From Chronic Pain. February 8, 2017. Accessed February 14, 2017 https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/02/170208160411.htm.
 Fitzpatrick, Caitlyn. “Pain Is Getting More Painful, Study Shows.” February 9, 2017. Accessed February 14, 2017. http://www.mdmag.com/medical-news/pain-is-getting-more-painful-study-shows.