Chronic pain is estimated to affect between one-third and one-half of the UK population, with a wide range of demographics presenting with various different symptoms related to long term pain. In this article, we discover which types of people experience chronic pain the most, how many pain relief prescriptions are written in the UK each year, the link between socioeconomic status and chronic pain, and more.
How many people suffer from Chronic Pain?
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.
Our survey also revealed more interesting chronic pain statistics, such as:
- 60% of people in the UK are in pain at least once a week.
- 20% of women and 12% of men suffer from chronic pain.
- The older we are, the more likely we are to experience chronic pain.
- More people in Yorkshire and the North West suffer from chronic pain than those from any other UK region.
- People with lower household incomes (less than £15,000 annual earnings) are 24% more likely to experience chronic pain than the average person.
Which part of the country is affected most by Chronic Pain?
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||GDHI per person|
|East of England||54.81||£22,205|
|Yorkshire & The Humber||72.49||£17,665|
When do people suffer from chronic pain most?
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:
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.
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.
Full methodology and findings: To see the full methodology and findings of our study, head over to our Chronic Pain Statistics 2020 Methodology which will allow you to view all of the prescription data we analysed and the full findings of our chronic pain survey.
We hope this article has been useful in providing you with the most up-to-date Chronic Pain statistics from the UK in 2020.