1 in 5 Aussies aged 45 and over experience chronic pain

NOTE: Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) staff are assisting other Government agencies, including the Department of Health, to monitor the COVID–19 (coronavirus) pandemic.

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More Australians than ever visited their general practitioner (GP) for chronic pain in 2015-16 and an estimated 1.6 million people aged 45 and over lived with persistent, ongoing pain in 2016, according to a new report by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW).

The report, Chronic pain in Australia, explores the latest national data on the proportion of people with chronic pain, as well as its impact, treatment and management.

‘In 2016, it was estimated that almost 1 in 5 (19%, 1.6 million) Australians aged 45 and over had chronic pain with higher rates for women compared to men, said AIHW spokesperson Ms. Katherine Faulks.

‘Chronic pain is ongoing and debilitating, and can impact a person’s ability to participate in work, daily activities, exercise, and access health care. It lasts beyond the normal healing time after injury or illness, and is experienced on most days of the week. It can result from injury, surgery, musculoskeletal conditions such as arthritis, or other medical conditions such as cancer.’

Between 2006–07 and 2015–16, the rate of GP visits where chronic back pain or unspecific chronic pain were managed, increased by 67%, representing about 400,000 more encounters for both conditions.

There were almost 105,000 hospitalisations in 2017–18 where chronic pain was deemed relevant to the patient’s care and patients with chronic pain were more likely to have a longer stay in hospital compared to those without.

‘People with chronic pain are more likely than those without chronic pain to experience mental health issues, including depression and anxiety, sleep disturbance and fatigue,’ Ms. Faulks said.

‘A person with chronic pain often has contact with a range of health professionals to assist in the management of their pain, including GPs, medical specialists, psychologists, physiotherapists and social workers.’

‘For people aged 45 and over, those with chronic pain are almost 3 times as likely to have been dispensed pain medication as those without chronic pain,’ Ms. Faulks said. Pain medication includes opioids, migraine medication, and other analgesics.

Ms. Faulks noted the difficulties in measuring chronic pain as it is a highly personal experience, and surveys rely on self-reporting by individuals. Surveys and data collections examined in this report do not measure distinct types of pain but measure them collectively. This makes it difficult to explore the different types of chronic pain experienced in Australia.

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