Pain, in all its forms, can be both physically and mentally unpleasant. Chronic pain meanwhile differs to acute pain, which has a short and relatively severe course. Chronic pain can last for much longer, weeks, months and even years after an injury. It can also affect any part of the body and people of any age, including children. Chronic pain can occur with no obvious cause and is sometimes thought to be due to changes in the nervous system.
Chronic pain is often a component of other long-term conditions, or can be a condition in its own right, and has been recognised as such by the Department of Health. In 2011, 31% of men and 37% of women in England reported chronic pain.
The Impact of Chronic Pain
Chronic pain can keep individuals from doing usual activities, including work and socialising.
According to the 2008 Chief Medical Officer’s report, 49% of patients with chronic pain experience depression. 16% of sufferers feel their chronic pain is so bad that they sometimes want to die.
Some chronic pain patients might see their employment situation change, for example having to leave their place of work or cut their hours. This can have a severe financial and psychological impact on an individual and their family.
According to a survey, 40% of people who attended pain clinics report that their pain has prevented them from working and 12% have had to reduce their hours.
In a survey conducted by Pain Alliance Europe, 21.5% of respondents said they now receive 26%-50% of their former income due to their chronic pain.
Lack of effective pain control represents a significant burden for the NHS as people living with chronic pain can be high consumers of healthcare resources across all care settings.
For example, in a National Pain Audit, 20% of respondents attending specialist pain services reported visiting A&E in the past six months, all of them had previously seen their GP.
The wider economic cost of chronic pain is difficult to calculate, but estimates of the cost of back pain alone are around £12.3 billion per year. The cost of chronic pain from all sources is therefore likely to be much higher.