If You Feel Achy After Reading This, We’ll Hope It Doesn’t Prove Chronic

“Pleasure is oft a visitant,” wrote the poet Keats, “but pain/Clings cruelly to us.” He had a point. A special section in “Health United States, 2006,” a voluminous study released this month by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, says millions of adults suffer from chronic pain.

Twenty-six percent of Americans age 20 and over reported suffering pain that lasted more than 24 hours during the month before being interviewed. A follow-up question asked these people how long the pain had persisted. While 32 percent said it lasted less than a month, the duration for 12 percent was one to three months, for 14 percent was three months to a year and for 42 percent was a year or more. All told, about one adult in 10 had pain lasting at least a year. The problem isn’t confined to creaky geezers, either. Among 20-44-year-olds, for example, 25 percent reported prior-month pain that lasted at least 24 hours; and 37 percent of these sufferers said it lasted at least a year. People age 65-plus actually had a below-average incidence of prior-month pain lasting at least 24 hours (21 percent). However, of the old folks who did endure such pain, 57 percent said it lasted at least a year.

Where does it hurt? When people age 18 and over were asked to say where they’d had pain in the previous three months, lower back pain was mentioned by 27 percent, severe headache or migraine by 15 percent, neck pain by 15 percent and face pain by 4 percent. “In general, women reported pain more than men, and non-Hispanic white adults reported pain more than people of other races and ethnicities. Lower-income adults also reported pain more than higher-income adults.” Again, though, age was less of a factor than you might guess. In the case of lower-back pain, 30 percent of those 65 and older reported suffering it in the three months before being queried. But so did 31 percent of the 45-64s and 24 percent of the 18-44s. As for migraines and severe headaches, people in the 18-44 bracket suffered these conditions “almost three times as frequently as adults 65 and over. Migraine/severe headache is particularly prevalent among women in their reproductive years.”

Joint pain, unlike some other varieties, does correlate strongly with age, which is why hospital recovery rooms are full of old people who’ve had replacement surgeries. Fifty percent of the 65-plus cohort reported joint pain of any sort in the previous 30 days, vs. 40 percent of the 45-64s and 21 percent of the 18-44s. And 14 percent of the 65-plus contingent reported “severe” joint pain during that period, vs. 12 percent of those age 45-64 and 5 percent of the 18-44s.