100 Million Americans Live With Chronic Pain and Pay an Unbelievable Amount to Deal With It

Our country’s highly debated, well-publicized opioid crisis begs the question: How are those living with chronic pain dealing with it? Jim Watkins, a victim of the brittle bone disease osteogenesis imperfecta, told the Chicago Tribune he must visit the doctor more frequently to receive his medication. He also has to undergo questioning he finds “just short of harassment.”

In addition to invasive questioning there is also the rising cost. Here’s a look at what chronic pain entails.

The price of pain

A woman deals with shoulder pain.

Pain can really affect your daily life. | iStock.com

The U.S. spends billions of dollars to treat chronic pain. A new working paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research found the value of avoiding pain ranged from $56 to $145 per day, fluctuating due to factors like household income and severity of the pain.

A 2011 study conducted by Johns Hopkins University and George Washington University found that if you combine the health care costs to treat pain with lost productivity from missed work days, chronic pain costs the U.S. health care system between $560 to $635 billion per year. This cost is far higher than that of cancer, diabetes, and heart disease.

Here’s why these costs have risen

Senior with painful arm during rehabilitation.

The cost of pain medication has increased through the years. | KatarzynaBialasiewicz/iStock/Getty Images

Decades ago, pharmaceutical companies assured health care providers that prescribing opioid medication for chronic pain wouldn’t lead to addiction. The National Institute on Drug Addiction recognized that this subsequently led to a widespread misuse of prescribed opioid drugs.

Insurance companies are and have been restricting access to the pain medications that chronic pain patients need, even those that cary a lower risk of addiction or dependence. The following chronic conditions are extremely costly for the average American to treat.

Chronic back pain

A young woman massages her neck and lower back.

We all know someone with back pain. | Halfbottle/iStock/Getty Images

An analysis by the Journal of the American Medical Association on U.S. health care spending found that low back and neck pain accounted for the third highest amount of spending at $87.6 billion. Back/spine problems cause millions of disability cases among adults, according to the CDC.

A 2009 study on the cost of care for patients with lower back pain concluded that osteopathic manipulative treatment from physical therapists may reduce the cost for lower back pain. 

The burden of rheumatoid arthritis

A man massages his inflamed foot.

You don’t have to be old to experience arthritis symptoms. | iStock.com

Arthritis affects 1 in 4 adults. According to the CDC, arthritis and other rheumatic conditions are a leading cause of disability among U.S. adults. It has been the most common cause of disability among adults for the past 15 years.

The medication for RA costs about $1,000 to $3,000 a month. Your out-of-pocket costs can add up to hundreds or thousands of dollars even with health insurance.


woman massaging her painful neck

A very expensive health condition to maintain. | SIphotography/iStock/Getty Images

Fibromyalgia syndrome is a chronic disease that affects the muscles and soft tissues. A 2007 study found that 34% of fibromyalgia patients spent between $100 to $1,000 per month beyond their insurance to see a health care professional.

Fibromyalgia researchers and specialists estimate that fibromyalgia costs the U.S. between $12-14 billion each year and accounts for a loss of 1-2% of the nation’s overall productivity.

Neuropathic pain

Woman suffering from aching back

Pain can be caused by both environmental factors and genes. | Andrey Popov/iStock/Getty Images Plus

Neuropathic pain can be a result of amputation, chemotherapy, and multiple sclerosis. Patients who aren’t insured can face extremely high costs of $1,000 to $5,000 yearly for epidural steroid injections or for anticonvulsant medications.

A review on the cost effectiveness of neuropathic pain therapy found that the chronic condition creates a substantial burden on the economy as well as the individual.

Chronic migraines

A man rubs his eyes while wearing a black suit.

Headaches are also incredibly common. | Thinkstock

The International Headache Society defines chronic migraines as headaches occurring on 15 or more days per month for more than three months. And on at least eight days per month, has the features of a migraine headache.

Preventive medications help reduce the frequency and severity of attacks. Botox is the only FDA approved preventive treatment for migraines. Botox currently costs about $1,200 for a 200 U vial — the smallest vial needed. Patients generally receive Botox every 12 weeks as recommended by the chronic treatment plan.

You may not have known this about chronic pain

Middle-aged businessman suffering from chest pain.

Will this new health plan help Americans who suffer from chronic pain? | Mheim3011/iStock/Getty Images

Chronic pain is the No. 1 cause of long-term disability in the U.S. today. Patients like Jim Watkins experience a severely compromised quality of life without regulated, accessible medications. About 77% of people report feeling depressed as a result of their chronic pain, and the majority feel they have little-to-no control.

The Pain Action Alliance to Implement a National Strategy, has ideas for better chronic pain treatment. They stress the plan will improve the lives of millions, save the U.S. billions of dollars, and help reduce opioid prescribing. The American Society of Regional Anesthesia and Pain Medicine also has a list of useful treatment options and advice.