Chronic pain affects the whole person. It forces people to limit their activities, search for medical treatment that can meet their needs, and drain their resources—financially and emotionally.
Here’s what you need to know.
The financial cost of chronic pain
The first thing you need to know is that for a majority of people with chronic pain, medical costs are nearly unaffordable. One study found that 74% of people with high-impact chronic pain are currently unemployed, which obviously has a huge impact on a person’s ability to afford medical treatment.
Unless they are supported by a caregiver or care partner—ignoring that in many cases one income for a household is simply not enough to meet even basic expenses—people with chronic pain are forced to rely on government assistance which can wildly vary from state to state and oftentimes not go far enough to meet their needs.
In fact, in a U.S. Pain Foundation study, over 75% of respondents indicated cost prevented them from accessing one or more treatment options—especially for critical multidisciplinary treatments that are not often covered by insurance.
Then there is the issue of actually being able to receive the pain medication you need. People making under $55k are less likely to be prescribed pain medication than those with higher incomes, and that’s not to mention how difficult it can be for people to receive the medication they need due to bias from physicians, either racial or just for simply not believing a person’s pain is real.
Still, it can be difficult for people without pain to understand what these additional costs can look like. One study found that people with severe pain spent $7,726 more on annual health care expenditures than people with no pain, which breaks down to an additional $644 per month. Remember, chronic pain affects at least 50 million Americans—20 million of which have “high-impact” pain.
Altogether, in 2010 dollars, pain costs the nation up to $635 billion each year in medical treatments, disability payments, and lost productivity.
These extravagant costs combined with a lack of the ability to actually pay them is just another needless stressor for those with chronic pain—a stressor that far too often creates a dangerous environment.
The emotional toll of chronic pain
It’s important to remember that, though staggering, the financial cost of chronic pain is just one factor that affects a much greater concern—a person’s emotional health.
Chronic pain can already limit a person’s life, fueling negative feelings and ideation. The sense of desperation that chronic pain can lead to, especially when needed care is either unaffordable or unavailable due to location, doctor bias, or another issue, all combine to lead to truly heartbreaking statistics.
People with chronic pain have at least twice the risk of suicide than those without chronic pain.
People with chronic pain are also four times more likely to have depression or anxiety than those who are pain-free.
These are startling statistics to be sure, but for anyone with chronic pain, they’re likely not shocking. We hear from people struggling every day to receive the care they need and who are exhausted from their pain. A U.S. Pain survey found that 74% of respondents indicated they have been living with their pain for at least 10 years, with 34% living with it for more than 20 years. The toll this takes is significant.
People with chronic pain need a support system where they can share their experiences and rely on others. They need to have their needs recognized and met by the medical system. They need to be respected and listened to.
There is no better time than now to begin making lasting changes that will improve the lives of everyone with chronic pain. As one study found, between 2002 and 2018, chronic pain prevalence in the U.S. increased by 10% among adults 25-84. With an aging population, these numbers likely won’t decrease anytime soon.
By raising awareness and advocating for patient rights, we can destigmatize chronic pain and raise the quality of care. The National Institutes of Health dedicates less than 2% of its funding to pain research—a much greater investment must be made to better the causes and treatment for chronic pain.
Only by recognizing the full impact chronic pain has on a person can we better meet the needs of millions.
If you’re struggling with depression, thinking about suicide, are worried about a friend or loved one, or would like emotional support, the Lifeline network is available 24/7 across the United States at 1-800-273-8255 or https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org.
Our 2021 Pain Awareness Month campaign is made possible through the generous sponsorship of Sunbeam®.