The hard facts about pain

Pain destroys lives. 

It's time to make pain a national health priority.

Chronic pain is a massive, growing public health issue: Pain is the most common reason that people seek medical help – yet it remains one of the most neglected and misunderstood areas of healthcare.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. 1
  • One in five GP consultations involve a patient with chronic pain and almost five percent report severe, disabling chronic pain.2
  • The prevalence of chronic pain is projected to increase as Australia's population ages – from around 3.2 million in 2007 to 5 million by 2050.3

The economic impact of chronic pain:

  • The total economic cost of chronic pain in 2007 was estimated at $34 Billion, including $11 Billion productivity costs and $7 Billion direct health care costs.3

  • 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 causes for people of working age (between 45 and 64) to drop out of the workforce, accounting for 40% of forced retirements – around 280,000 people in 2012.4

  • This has a significant impact on workplace productivity and Australia's economic health, with the lost workforce due to arthritis and back problems alone, estimated to cost the economy over $4 Billion a year in 2012.

Lack of access to pain services:

  • 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.5

  • 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.6

  • 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.

Poor management of pain in aged care:

  • People in aged care facilities generally are being either over-treated or under-treated for pain, compromising quality of life.7

  • People with dementia who are living with pain are being under-treated, compared with cognitively intact people, despite having similar levels of potentially painful disease.7

  • In residential aged care, 92% of people are taking at least one analgesic medication daily and 80% of people list pain as a problem.8

Impact of pain on children and families:

  • Between 25% and 35% of children experience chronic pain, with the greatest incidence in adolescence, especially for young girls.9

  • Children with chronic pain often drop out of school, can become socially withdrawn and isolated, fail to achieve their academic potential and miss job opportunities.9

  • There are only five dedicated multidisciplinary paediatric pain services in Australia and only one of these in a regional centre.

Impact on women's health and productivity:

  • A 2011 report revealed that 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.10

  • With effective care these women would be able to continue working or caring for their families, that is become tax-payers rather than tax burdens; or continue their work as volunteers in the community.10

Pain in palliative care:

  • An effective and humane approach to managing pain at end of life requires much more than analgesic medication. It calls for an approach which prevents suffering and takes into account physical and psychological factors as well as spiritual and cultural beliefs and attitudes towards dying.

  • Most health professionals will be called upon to manage patients at the end of life – yet many are ill-equipped to approach this in a holistic way. Providing access for health professionals to best practice education and training in managing pain at end of life, is an important recommendation of the National Pain Strategy.

 Links between chronic pain and mental health:

  • One in five Australian adults with severe or very severe pain also suffer depression or other mood disorders.11

  • Physical health problems have been implicated in 21% of suicides in Australia.12

  • Forty years ago depression was widely misunderstood, highly stigmatised and poorly treated. Yet today we know that it is a serious biological illness that if left untreated can lead to suicide.
  • Like depression, chronic pain can become a serious and debilitating disease in its own right. Yet it struggles to get awareness, although it can significantly diminish quality of life of patients and their families and the risk of suicide is twice as high in people who have chronic pain.13



1. Blyth FM et al (2001) "Chronic pain in Australia: a prevalence study" Pain, 89:127-1342.

2. SAND abstract No. 150 from the BEACH program, Chronic Pain in general practice patients. 2010

3. MBF Foundation (2007) The high price of pain: the economic impact of persistent pain in Australia - Pain Management Research Institute, University of Sydney.

4. Schofield el al. (2012) Quantifying the Productivity impacts of poor health and health interventions
Health economics, University Sydney Oct 2012

5. National Pain Strategy (2010)

6. Australian Pain Society (2010) Waiting in Pain, Medical Journal of Australia 196 (6)

7. Gibson SJ. (2007)The IASP Global Year Against Pain in Older Persons: Highlighting the current status
and future perspectives in geriatric pain. Expert Reviews in Neurotherapeutics 7: 627-635

8. Department of Health and Ageing (2012) Aged Care Funding Instrument Database

9. Faculty of Pain Medicine, ANZCA (2012)

10. Bush D, Evans S, Vancaillie T (2011) The $6 Billion Woman and the $600 Million Girl: The Pelvic Pain Report

11. Australian Bureau of Statistics (2011) 4841.0 Facts at your fingertips: Health: Characteristics of bodily pain in Australia

12. Commonwealth of Australia (2006)National Activities in Suicide Bereavement Project: Canberra,
Department of Health and Ageing

13. Suicide Prevention Australia, Chronic Illness, Chronic Pain and Suicide Prevention Position Statement (2011)





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Our mission is to improve the quality of life for the millions of people living with chronic pain, and to minimise the burden of pain on individuals and communities across Australia.


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