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23 Sep 2020

Chronic Pain Statistics UK 2020 

Chronic pain is believed to affect between one-third and one-half of the UK population, with a wide range of demographics presenting with various symptoms related to long term pain. At Formulate Health, we're passionate abuot health and understanding the conditions that affect to many. So we carried out some of our own research to discover:

  • How many people are actually affected by chronic pain
  • How frequently we experience pain in the UK (even when not chronic)
  • How much pain and pain relief is costing the NHS
  • The areas of England in which people are likeliest to experience pain
  • The link between low income and risk of chronic pain

Our Findings in Summary

Want the short version? In short, our research found:

  • People in Yorkshire and the North West are likelier to suffer chronic pain than people in any other region of the country
  • 16% of over 16s in the UK are in constant (chronic) pain
  • 38% of over 16s in the UK experience noticable pain at least once a day
  • 60% of over 16s in the UK experience pain at least weekly 
  • The North East has significantly more prescriptions per thousand people in the population than any other region of the UK

How many people suffer from Chronic Pain? 

  • Over 8 million people in the UK say they are in chronic pain
  • 19.5 million people in the UK are in pain at least once a day

Calculations above based on a combination of our survey findings and 2011 census data, which estimated 81.1% of the population to be 16 or over. That equates to 51,240,602 people.

Gender and Chronic Pain

Our survey found that women are likelier to suffer chronic pain than men. 

  • 19.74% of women and just 11.82% of men claim to be chronic pain
  • Including those specifying that they're in chronic pain, 33.73% of men experience noticeable pain at least once a day. For women, this figure rises dramatically to 42.22%.

Age and Chronic Pain

It will come as no surprise that the older we get, the more we appear to be affected by chronic pain. In our survey, we found:

  • 20% of over 55s are in chronic pain
  • An additional 19% are in pain at least once a day, though they would not describe it as chronic

In other words, almost 40% of those aged 55 and over are in pain at least once a day, and over half of those people are in constant pain.

That's not to say that young people are unaffected, however. According to our figures:

  • 32.76% of 16 to 24s experience noticeable pain at least once a day (though just 7.76% describe it as constant)

That's almost a third of young adults experiencing daily pain.

Frequency of Pain Age
  16-24 25-34 35-44 45-54 55+
Constantly (chronic pain) 7.76% 12.46% 11.88% 17.82% 20.48%
More than twice a day but not constantly 1.72% 2.13% 2.50% 4.53% 6.38%
Twice a day 10.78% 9.73% 10.31% 8.46% 8.51%
Once a day 12.50% 14.29% 10.63% 8.76% 4.39%
4-6 days a week 9.91% 8.51% 5.94% 4.23% 5.32%
2-3 days a week 9.48% 6.69% 10.63% 11.78% 8.11%
Once a week 6.47% 8.21% 5.63% 6.34% 5.19%
Once every 2 to 3 weeks 4.31% 5.17% 5.31% 4.83% 5.05%
Once a month 7.76% 6.08% 5.94% 4.53% 3.86%
Once every 2 months 2.16% 2.13% 2.19% 2.11% 1.86%
Once every 3 to 5 months 3.02% 1.52% 2.81% 3.02% 2.66%
Once every 6 to 11 months 3.45% 2.74% 3.75% 3.63% 3.32%
Once a year 1.72% 2.43% 2.81% 2.42% 3.06%
Less than once a year, please specify once every xx years 0.00% 0.00% 0.00% 0.00% 0.13%
Never 12.50% 13.98% 17.19% 16.62% 19.15%
Prefer not to say 6.47% 3.95% 2.50% 0.91% 2.53%
Mean in times per week (Excludes "Constantly (chronic pain)" and "Prefer not to say") 5.03 5.28 5.13 6.2 7.4

 

Pain and Income

We discuss the correlation between low incomes and pain in our analysis of pain relief prescriptions data later. But our survey did find that those on the lowest incomes were the likeliest to suffer chronic pain.

Household Income Chronic (Constant) Pain More Than Twice a Day Twice a Day Once a Day
£15,000 or less 23.36% 4.72% 10.24% 6.82%
£15,001 - £25,000 17.75% 4.75% 9.25% 9.25%
£25,001 - £35,000 14.45% 2.89% 10.40% 11.56%
£35,001 - £45,000 11.24% 3.10% 10.08% 12.40%
£45,001 - £55,000 16.15% 6.25% 8.33% 5.73%
£55,001 - £65,000 3.03% 1.01% 8.08% 7.07%
£65,001 - £75,000 14.29% 7.94% 6.35% 12.70%
Over £75,000 12.50% 5.21% 12.50% 5.21%

One possibility for the higher income brackets creeping back up in terms of prevalence of chronic pain could be down to a correlation between higher earnings and age (just a theory).

Chronic Pain, Web Search and GP Appointments

It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly how many people suffer from chronic pain, especially given that many people who experience chronic pain don’t actually realise they have it. However, when taking a look at search volumes associated with chronic pain, it seems to be a topic that many people are searching for. 

 

 

For instance, every year in the UK, 70,800 searches are made for the term ‘Chronic pain’, with a further 8,400 searches being made for ‘Chronic Pain Management’. 

It’s been estimated that chronic pain accounts for 4.6 million GP appointments in the UK every year, equating to a cost of approximately £69 million. 

In 2017, the Health Survey for England found that 34% of all adults had chronic pain. 

This now appears to have increased, as our study of 2,000 UK adults (conducted in October 2020) found that 38% of the UK population now experience chronic, noticeable pain every single day. 

 

NHS England Spending on Pain Relief Prescriptions - The Statistics

To find out which regions are most affected by chronic pain*, we analysed NHS England’s prescription data to see which parts of the country prescribe the most pain medication. We looked at all prescriptions made between July 2015 and June 2020 for all pain relief medications. 

The results found that CCGS (Clinical Commissioning Groups) in the North East prescribe more pain medication than any other English region. In the North East, 86 items per 1,000 people are prescribed every month, whereas in London just 32 items are prescribed per 1,000 people. 



 

As you can see from the graph, the North West and Yorkshire and the Humber also prescribe a high number of pain medication. This is followed by the East Midlands and the South West, with the West Midlands, East of England and South East prescribing fewer prescriptions for pain relief. 

 

The relationship between chronic pain and socio-economic status

 

Our study also found a strong correlation between chronic pain and lower socioeconomic status. The regions with lower Gross Disposable Household Incomes (GDHI) were prescribed much higher numbers of prescriptions for pain than those with higher incomes. 

As you can see from the table below, the number of prescriptions for pain medications are higher in low income areas such as the North East and the North West. 

Whereas in high income regions such as London and the South East, pain relief prescription rates are much lower. 
 

Region

Average items per 1,000 people per month from June 2015 to June 2020        

GDHI per person
London 32.23     £29,362
South East     52.42     £24,318
East of England 54.81     £22,205
West Midlands     57.04     £18,222
East Midlands     65.32     £18,277
South West     65.85     £20,907
Yorkshire & The Humber     72.49     £17,665
North West     75.86     £18,362
North East     85.65     £16,995

 

Our research suggests that people with chronic pain seem to suffer more during the winter months than any other time of year. To find out what time of year people seem to struggle with chronic pain most, we took a look at search data on the tool Google Trends. This allowed us to view how frequently terms such as ‘Chronic pain’ are searched in the UK. The results found that: When do people suffer from chronic pain most? 

More searches are made for ‘Chronic pain’ during Winter months than any other time of year. This correlates with the findings of the University of Manchester’s Cloudy with a Chance of Pain study which found that people experience more pain on days where the humidity is higher, pressure is lower and winds are stronger (all of which conditions appear more frequently during winter). 

There was one exception to this, however, when a spike in searches for ‘chronic pain’ occurred in August 2020. This may have been linked with news coverage of new guidance from the National Institute of Health and Care Excellence (NICE) which stated that a number of commonly used pain medications could actually be doing more harm than good when it comes to chronic pain.

 

Methodology and Data Downloads

To see the full methodology and findings of our study of prescription data, head over to our Chronic Pain Statistics 2020 Methodology which will allow you to view all of the prescription data we analysed.

You can view the full survey data here.

We hope this article has been useful in providing you with the most up-to-date Chronic Pain statistics from the UK in 2020. 
 

Limitations: *We based our findings on the assumption that the higher the rate of prescriptions for pain relief medication are in a specific area, the higher the likelihood is that people in said area will be suffering from chronic pain. Of course, this may be untrue and it could be the case that many of the people being prescribed pain relief are not being treated for chronic pain. However this is extremely difficult to determine, given the limited data available due to GDPR.  

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