The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

More than 1 in 5 U.S. adults lived with chronic pain in 2021

(Washington Post Illustration, iStock)
1 min

About 52 million adults in the United States — more than 1 in 5 — were living with chronic pain in 2021, according to a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That included 17 million who experienced chronic pain severe enough to substantially restrict their daily activities, referred to as high-impact chronic pain.

Health experts generally define chronic pain as pain affecting any part of the body and lasting for three months or more, sometimes for years.

Chronic pain may stem from an injury or infection or be related to an ongoing condition such as arthritis or cancer. It also can be caused by such psychological factors as stress, anxiety or depression; in these cases, it’s known as psychosomatic pain.

The CDC report found that chronic pain, including the high-impact type, was more prevalent among women than men and among older adults, affecting about 30 percent of those 65 to 84. It also was more common among people with a disability and those with poor general health.

Treatments for chronic pain vary greatly, but they usually start with trying to identify and treat the initial cause of the pain. After that, the focus turns to managing the pain itself and improving the person’s ability to function. This often involves a combination of medication, lifestyle changes, therapy and complementary health treatments such as acupuncture, meditation and massage.

This article is part of The Post’s “Big Number” series, which takes a brief look at the statistical aspect of health issues. Additional information and relevant research are available through the hyperlinks.