Severe Pain in Veterans: The Effect of Age and Sex, and Comparisons With the General Population

J Pain. 2017 Mar;18(3):247-254. doi: 10.1016/j.jpain.2016.10.021. Epub 2016 Nov 21.


This study provides national prevalence estimates of US military veterans with severe pain, and compares veterans with nonveterans of similar age and sex. Data used are from the 2010 to 2014 National Health Interview Survey on 67,696 adults who completed the Adult Functioning and Disability Supplement. Participants with severe pain were identified using a validated pain severity coding system imbedded in the National Health Interview Survey Adult Functioning and Disability Supplement. It was estimated that 65.5% of US military veterans reported pain in the previous 3 months, with 9.1% classified as having severe pain. Compared with veterans, fewer nonveterans reported any pain (56.4%) or severe pain (6.4%). Whereas veterans aged 18 to 39 years had significantly higher prevalence rates for severe pain (7.8%) than did similar-aged nonveterans (3.2%), veterans age 70 years or older were less likely to report severe pain (7.1%) than nonveterans (9.6%). Male veterans (9.0%) were more likely to report severe pain than male nonveterans (4.7%); however, no statistically significant difference was seen between the 2 female groups. The prevalence of severe pain was significantly higher in veterans with back pain (21.6%), jaw pain (37.5%), severe headaches or migraine (26.4%), and neck pain (27.7%) than in nonveterans with these conditions (respectively: 16.7%, 22.9%, 15.9%, and 21.4%). Although veterans (43.6%) were more likely than nonveterans (31.5%) to have joint pain, no difference was seen in the prevalence of severe pain associated with this condition.

Perspective: Prevalence of severe pain, defined as that which occurs "most days" or "every day" and bothers the individual "a lot," is strikingly more common in veterans than in members of the general population, particularly in veterans who served during recent conflicts. Additional assistance may be necessary to help veterans cope with their pain.

Keywords: Veteran; back pain; joint pain; migraine; pain severity.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Age Distribution
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Aging*
  • Disabled Persons / statistics & numerical data
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Pain / classification
  • Pain / epidemiology*
  • Prevalence
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Sex Characteristics*
  • Statistics, Nonparametric
  • United States / epidemiology
  • Veterans / statistics & numerical data*
  • Young Adult