Chronic pain and frequent use of health care

Pain. 2004 Sep;111(1-2):51-8. doi: 10.1016/j.pain.2004.05.020.


Little is known about the relationship between chronic pain status and overall use of healthcare. We examined whether disabling chronic pain was associated with more frequent use of healthcare in three settings: primary care, emergency departments, and hospital admissions. We used data from Computer-Assisted Telephone Interviews (CATI) of 17,543 residents in New South Wales, Australia aged 16 and over who were randomly sampled using a population-based two-stage stratified sample and random digit dialing methods. The overall response rate was 70.8%. Compared to chronic pain respondents with no or limited pain-related disability, those with most pain-related disability reported more: primary care visits in the last 2 weeks and last 12 months (adjusted mean number of visits 0.59 vs 0.40 and 10.72 vs 4.81, both P < 0.005); hospital admissions (0.46 vs 0.18, P < 0.005); and emergency department visits (0.85 vs 0.17, P > 0.005). In modelling, having chronic pain per se, or having chronic pain with any level of activity interference predicted health care use after adjusting for age, gender, self-rated health, psychological distress, comorbidity and access to care. Higher levels of pain-related disability predicted health care use more than other pain status variables. There was a strong association between pain-related disability and greater use of services. Further work is needed to understand the nature of this association. Given the fluctuating course of chronic pain over time, there is a significant segment of the population that may be at risk of developing higher levels of disability associated with increased use of services.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Chronic Disease
  • Emergency Medical Services / statistics & numerical data*
  • Female
  • Health Care Surveys
  • Hospitalization / statistics & numerical data*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • New South Wales / epidemiology
  • Pain / epidemiology*
  • Prevalence
  • Primary Health Care / statistics & numerical data*
  • Risk Factors