Prevalence of chronic pain in a representative sample in the United States

Pain Med. 2008 Oct;9(7):803-12. doi: 10.1111/j.1526-4637.2008.00425.x. Epub 2008 Mar 11.


Objective: Chronic pain is a common reason for seeking medical care. We estimated the prevalence of chronic regional and widespread pain in the United States population overall, and by age, sex, and race/ethnicity.

Setting: We examined the data from 10,291 respondents who participated in the 1999-2002 NHANES (National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey) and completed a pain questionnaire. Items allowed classification of chronic (>or=3 months) pain as regional or widespread. We used regression models to test the association of sex and race/ethnicity with each pain outcome, adjusting for age.

Results: Chronic pain prevalence estimates were 10.1% for back pain, 7.1% for pain in the legs/feet, 4.1% for pain in the arms/hands, and 3.5% for headache. Chronic regional and widespread pain were reported by 11.0% and 3.6% of respondents, respectively. Women had higher odds than men for headache, abdominal pain, and chronic widespread pain. Mexican-Americans had lower odds compared with non-Hispanic whites and blacks for chronic back pain, legs/feet pain, arms/hands pain, and regional and widespread pain.

Conclusion: The population prevalence of chronic pain in the United States was lower than previously reported, with smaller sex-related differences and some variation by race/ethnicity.

MeSH terms

  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Pain / diagnosis*
  • Pain / epidemiology*
  • Prevalence
  • Risk Assessment / methods*
  • Risk Factors
  • United States / epidemiology