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:
Want the short version? In short, our research found:
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.
Our survey found that women are likelier to suffer chronic pain than men.
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:
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:
That's almost a third of young adults experiencing daily pain.
|Frequency of Pain||Age|
|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%|
|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|
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%|
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).
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.
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.
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.
Average items per 1,000 people per month from June 2015 to June 2020
|GDHI per person|
|East of England||54.81||£22,205|
|Yorkshire & The Humber||72.49||£17,665|
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.
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.