Monday, May 12, 2008

Chronic Pain: Class and Cost Distinctions

As I sat icing my hips today—I knew my beloved elliptical machine was bad for the hips, but wasn’t expecting the stationary bike to be so tortuous—I recalled an interesting Time article about chronic pain I read last week.

That chronic pain is both exhaustive in reach and hugely expensive certainly isn’t news. Still, some of the statistics the article highlights are sobering:

--More than one quarter of Americans suffer from chronic pain
--Each year, chronic pain costs us $60 billion in lost productivity
--In 2004, Americans spent a whopping $2.6 billion on OTC pain medications

Even more compelling are the recent finding from the Lancet that explore chronic pain and its class implications. The Time article goes on to report that:

“Americans in households making less than $30,000 a year spend nearly 20% of their lives in moderate to severe pain, compared with less than 8% of people in households earning above $100,000.”

Other points of interest? The difference extends to the nature of pain itself. People on the affluent side of the economic split often experienced pain from activities like exercising; people on the other end of the spectrum experienced pain as a result of the physical labor and repetitive movements intrinsic to blue-collar jobs.

What’s positive here is that with better preventative policies in the workplace some of this pain can be managed. But coupled with another study’s finding that those who live in poorer ZIP codes have less access to pain medication because their local drug stores don’t stock enough of it, the picture isn’t as clean.

Anyway, be sure to click on over and read the whole article--I've highlighted what was most interesting to me, but there's more to it, especially information on gender that isn't what we usually hear.

Obviously the scope of pain goes far beyond exercise and physically demanding jobs—from migraines to arthritis to a whole host of conditions, there are plenty of reasons people are in pain, miss work, socialize less. I know for me, the tendonitis in my hips is a source of pain less frequently than pain in my lungs or joints from other conditions. Often these sources cut across class and economic boundaries, but until the gap in access to resources closes, a divide remains.

On a somewhat related note, I was quoted in a USA Today column on spirit-boosting tips when you’re dealing with illness or pain. Check it out--hopefully, some of the patient experience collected there cuts across class and economic boundaries,too.


Girl, Dislocated said...

I don't even want to know how much of that $2.6 billion spent on OTC pain meds came out of my wallet!

I really liked some of the ideas in the USA Today column, particularly the first quote and yours (even more incentive to keep my place tidy!). I think showing that everyone has their own unique way of coping with pain and illness was just as important as providing ideas. You'd think it would be very commons sense that individuals have individual ways of getting through pain, but it seems that some people have a hard time grasping that concept. (I'm only basing that conclusion on my own experiences with people trying to get me to change my coping strategies, so I could be wrong.)

Synchronicity said...

Congrats on your quote...that is very will help a lot of people.

Anonymous said...

I think you can put the Time and USA Today pieces together to get a little insight on at least a part of the disparity: rich people are more likely to have a positive outlook, which probably plays some role in how well they are able to manage their pain. I work with a San Jose area chronic pain clinic and obviously people from all walks of life experience chronic pain. And again, obviously, wealthier people have more treatment options and are less likely to suffer repetitive stress injuries. But I think much more research is needed into how a person's attitude affects their perception of chronic pain.

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