Prevalence and Profile of High-Impact Chronic Pain in the United States

J Pain. 2019 Feb;20(2):146-160. doi: 10.1016/j.jpain.2018.07.006. Epub 2018 Aug 7.


The multidimensional nature of chronic pain is not reflected by definitions based solely on pain duration, resulting in high prevalence estimates limiting effective policy development. The newly proposed concept of high-impact chronic pain (HICP) incorporates both disability and pain duration to identify a more severely impacted portion of the chronic pain population yet remains uncharacterized at the population level. As such, we used the 2011 National Health Interview Survey (N = 15,670) to 1) assess the likelihood of disability in the overall chronic pain population, 2) estimate the prevalence of HICP, and 3) characterize the disability, health status, and health care use profile of this population in the United States. Overall, chronic pain, defined as pain experienced on most days or every day in the previous 3 months, was strongly associated with an increased risk of disability after controlling for other chronic health conditions (odds ratio = 4.43; 95% confidence interval = 3.73-5.26), where disability was more likely in those with chronic pain than in those with stroke or kidney failure, among others. HICP affected 4.8% of the U.S. adult population, or approximately 10.6 million individuals, in 2011. The HICP population reported more severe pain and more mental health and cognitive impairments than persons with chronic pain without disability, and was also more likely to report worsening health, more difficulty with self-care, and greater health care use. HICP clearly represents a more severely impacted portion of the chronic pain population. Understanding this heterogeneity will contribute to developing more effective legislation promoting safe and cost-effective approaches to the prevention and treatment of chronic pain. PERSPECTIVE: HICP is a powerful new classification that differentiates those with debilitating chronic pain from those with less impactful chronic pain. By addressing the multidimensionality of chronic pain, this classification will improve clinical practice, research, and the development of effective health policy.

Keywords: High-impact chronic pain; National Health Interview Survey; disability; health outcomes; prevalence.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Activities of Daily Living*
  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Behavioral Symptoms / epidemiology*
  • Behavioral Symptoms / etiology
  • Chronic Pain / complications
  • Chronic Pain / epidemiology*
  • Chronic Pain / physiopathology*
  • Cognitive Dysfunction / epidemiology*
  • Cognitive Dysfunction / etiology
  • Comorbidity
  • Disabled Persons / statistics & numerical data*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Mobility Limitation*
  • Prevalence
  • Time Factors
  • United States / epidemiology
  • Young Adult