Pain is the most common reason that people seek medical help—yet it remains one of the most neglected and misunderstood areas of healthcare.
One in five Australians lives with chronic pain including adolescents and children. This prevalence rises to one in three people over the age of 65.
One in five GP consultations involves a patient with chronic pain and almost five percent report severe, disabling chronic pain.
The prevalence of chronic pain is projected to increase as Australia's population ages.
The total economic cost of chronic pain in 2007 was estimated at more than $34 billion, including $11 billion productivity costs and $7 billion direct health care costs.
Chronic pain is Australia's third most costly health condition after cardiovascular diseases and musculoskeletal conditions (also associated with chronic pain).
Arthritis and back problems, both associated with chronic pain, are the most common reasons people of working age (between 45 and 64) drop out of the workforce, accounting for 40% of forced retirements.
Productivity costs associated with arthritis and other musculoskeletal conditions alone were estimated to cost the economy more than $7.4 billion in 2012.
The annual cost of pelvic pain alone in Australia is $6 billion. It affects 5% of girls and women and equates to 11 hours of productivity a week.
Early intervention and adoption of evidence-based treatment could halve the economic cost of chronic pain, estimated at $34 billion.
Less than 10% of people with chronic non-cancer pain gain access to effective care, despite the fact that current knowledge would allow 80% to be treated effectively, if there was adequate access to pain services.
Patients face long waiting times to access multidisciplinary pain services in public hospitals—frequently more than a year—resulting in deterioration in quality of life and reduction in ability to return to work.
Lack of access to services is especially critical in rural, regional and remote areas and indigenous communities.
The Faculty of Pain Medicine of the Australian and New Zealand College of Anaesthetists reports that there are only 275 pain medicine specialists practicing in Australia and they are unable to meet the needs of 20% of the population. Twice as many palliative care physicians are trained every year compared with pain specialists.
There are only 12 paediatric pain specialists in the whole of Australia, and some jurisdictions have none at all.
There are only six dedicated multidisciplinary paediatric pain services in Australia and only one of these in a regional centre.
As chronic pain is invisible, sufferers can feel misunderstood and stigmatised, by co-workers, friends, family and even the medical profession.
When someone with a chronic pain condition does not meet health professionals’ expectations of what constitutes an illness, their condition is often not taken seriously and their personal legitimacy is compromised.
People with chronic pain can lose their status within the community and experience discrimination in many areas of their lives, including being able to access health care, education, income and income support. Most insidious of all is their loss of voice.
Common challenges faced by people with chronic pain are decreased enjoyment of normal activities, loss of function, role change and relationship difficulties.
One in five Australian adults with severe or very severe pain also suffer depression or other mood disorders.
One in three Australian adults with severe or very severe pain have high or very high levels of psychological distress.
There are high rates of generalised anxiety disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder and substance misuse.
There are high levels of suicide ideation, plans and attempts in people with chronic pain, and physical health problems have been implicated in 21% of suicides in Australia.
If you need to speak to someone now, please call Lifeline 13 11 14.