Poll: Ouch! We're A Hurting Group

woman in pain holding head AP

Americans are no strangers to living with physical pain, with three quarters reporting suffering from some kind of pain, and one in ten diagnosed by a doctor as having chronic pain. Although relatively few pain sufferers have tried them, most people think alternative remedies would provide effective relief from pain. And when it comes to who handles pain better, both sexes agree -- it's the women!

Overall, three in four Americans report suffering from some form of pain often or at least sometimes. That includes 70% of men and 83% of women, and three quarters of people under age 50 and eight in ten of those age 50 or older. Most of these people suffer from more than one type of pain.

The most common form of pain is back or neck pain, suffered by a majority of Americans, followed by joint pain or arthritis. About one in five also suffer from severe headache or migraines, or stomach pain or ulcer. Back or neck pain is the most-suffered pain for people under age 50, while joint pain or arthritis is the top complaint among those age 50 or older. Younger people are also more likely than older people to suffer from migraines.

SUFFER FROM PAIN OFTEN OR SOMETIMES

Back of neck pain

All:
53%
Under 50:
55
50 and older:
50

Joint pain

All:
44%
Under 50:
32
50 and Older:
66

Migranes

All:
22%
Under 50:
24
50 and Older:
17

Stomach pain or ulder
All:
17%
Under 50:
18
50 and Over:
16

Diagnosed with chronic pain

All:
12%
Under 50:
9
50 and Older:
18


12% of Americans say they have been diagnosed by a doctor as having chronic pain. People age 50 and older are twice as likely as those under 50 to have been diagnosed with chronic pain. Women are more likely than men to be chronic pain sufferers, 15% to 9%.

Women are much more prone to suffering severe headaches or migraines than men, 29% to 13%. Women are also generally more likely than men to report suffering from pain often. Nearly half of women under age 50 also report suffering from menstrual, reproductive, or other pelvic pain.

SUFFER FROM PELVIC PAIN

Among Women under Age 50

Often:
17%
Sometimes:
29
Hardly ever:
22
Never:
31



HOW BAD IS IT?

Most pain sufferers rate their pain as bearable, but one in five say their pain is unbearable. The level of pain is much higher for people who have been diagnosed with chronic pain.

On a level of 0 to 10, with 0 being almost no pain and 10 meaning unbearable pain, half of pain sufferers rate their pain as between 0 and 3; 30% rate their pain to be 4 to 6, and 19% say their pain is between 7 and 10. The average level of pain is 3.9.

RATE YOUR PAIN LEVEL
(Among Pain Sufferers, On A Scale of 0 to 10: 0 – Almost No Pain; 10 – Unbearable)

Experience Severe Pain (7-10)

All:
19%
Chronic Pain Sufferers:
54
Men:
15
Women:
21
Under 50:
14
50 and Older:
23


Average Pain Level

All: 3.9
Chronic Pain Sufferers: 6.5
Men: 3.7
Women: 4.0
Under 50: 3.7
50 and Older: 4.2


But nearly all of those who have been diagnosed with chronic pain by a doctor rate their pain level as above 4, with a majority, 54%, rating their pain as nearly unbearable. Since chronic pain sufferers constitute 12% of Americans, that means 6% of the adult population in the U.S. live with constant and severe pain. The average level of pain for those chronic pain sufferers is 6.5.

Women are more likely than men to experience severe pain, 21% to 15%. People age 50 and older are also more likely to have unbearable pain, 23% to 14%.

Pain tends to interfere somewhat more often with people's daily life as they age. While 11% of pain sufferers under age 50 say pain interferes often with the things they have to do everyday, such as going to work, shopping, or family life, 20% of those who are age 50 or older say this about their pain.

HOW OFTEN DOES PAIN INTERFERE WITH YOUR DAILY LIFE?
(Among Pain Sufferers)

Never

All:
17%
Under 50:
17
50 and Older:
17

Often

All:
14%
Under 50:
11
50 and Older:
20

Sometimes

All:
16%
Under 50:
16
50 and Older:
16

Occasionally

All:
32%
Under 50:
36
50 and Older:
26

Never
All:
37%
Under 50:
37
50 and Over:
37


MANAGING PAIN

Pain interferes with the daily lives of men and women equally, although more women than men suffer from pain, and they suffer more often and on a more severe level. Indeed, according to two thirds of all Americans, women seem to handle pain better. Even a majority of men think that women manage pain better than men.

WHO HANDLES PAIN BETTER – MEN OR WOMEN?

Men Do

All:
22%
Men:
32
Women:
12

Women Do

All:
68%
Men:
53
Women:
83


Taking medication is still the most commonly used method of relief from pain. 73% of pain sufferers have gotten relief from over-the-counter drugs, and 62% from prescription drugs. 47% have gotten relief from exercise and physical therapy, and another 39% from meditation and massage. Much fewer, however, have tried newer methods such as going to a pain specialist or alternative therapy such as herbal remedies and acupuncture.

HAVE YOU EVER GOTTEN RELIEF FROM YOUR PAIN FROM…

All Pain Sufferers

Over-the-counter drugs:
73%
Prescription drugs:
62
Exercise/physical therapy:
47
Meditation/massage:
39
Pain specialist:
18
Alternative therapy:
13


Chronic Pain Sufferers

Over-the-counter drugs:
52%
Prescription drugs:
82
Exercise/physical therapy:
49
Meditation/massage:
41
Pain specialist:
34
Alternative therapy:
15


Not surprisingly, chronic pain sufferers are much more likely to have resorted to prescription painkillers as well as pain specialists. Men and women seek relief from pain in similar ways, although women are somewhat more likely than men to use either prescription or over-the-counter medications, and more men than women have seen a pain specialist.

Americans are very open to new methods of treating pain, however. Regardless of whether they have tried it, three quarters of Americans believe new methods, such as herbal remedies, acupuncture, meditation or massage, would be effective alternatives in treating pain.

WOULD ALTERNATIVE THERAPY BE EFFECTIVE IN TREATING PAIN?

Yes

All:
75%
Under 50:
83
50 and Older:
60

No

All:
14%
Under 50:
10
50 and Older:
20

Both men and women similarly agree on the effectiveness of alternative therapy. Younger people under age 50 are more likely than those age 50 and older to believe alternative therapy can be effective in treating pain, 83% to 60%.




This poll was conducted among a nationwide random sample of 902 adults, interviewed by telephone January 4-6, 2003. The error due to sampling for results based on the entire sample could be plus or minus three percentage points, and plus or minus four percentage points for results based on the sample of pain sufferers.

For detailed information on how CBS News conducts public opinion surveys, click here.

  • Bootie Cosgrove-Mather

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