Chronic pain hits 10% of Canadians under 44

Back pain, migraines and other chronic pain hinder about one in 10 Canadians aged 12 to 44, Statistics Canada says.

Back pain, migraines and other chronic pain hinder about one in 10 Canadians aged 12 to 44, Statistics Canada says.

Wednesday's report focused on a sample of 57,660 respondents, representing 14.6 million Canadians in the younger age range. About one in 10, an estimated 1.5 million people, answered "no" when asked if they were usually free of pain or discomfort.

Among those aged 12 to 44, chronic pain was often associated with back problems, and for females in particular, with migraine headaches. 

Regina neurosurgeon Dr. Krishna Kumar treats Don Anderson's chronic pain with a device that sends an electric charge to neutralize pain signals. About 63 per cent of people aged 12 to 44 with chronic pain reported activity limitations at least sometimes. ((CBC))

"One of the contributions of this study is that it demonstrates how chronic pain has implications for people's quality of life," said report author Heather Gilmour, a senior analyst with Statistics Canada in Ottawa.

"For example, chronic pain sufferers were more likely to report activity limitations in all domains of their life, that they needed help with everyday tasks, and that pain not only limited but prevented some of their activities."

The activities included needing help getting dressed, moving around the household, doing housework, running errands or paying bills.

The findings also have job implications since fewer men and women in the chronic pain group said they had gone to work in the week before they were interviewed — 87 per cent of men and 72 per cent of women who were pain-free versus 78 per cent of men and 65 per cent of women in the chronic pain group.

About 63 per cent of people aged 12 to 44 with chronic pain reported experiencing activity limitations "sometimes" or "often," compared with 15 per cent of those who did not have chronic pain.

Coping with pain

Lynn Cooper, 54, has suffered from chronic pain since she severely injured her back when she suddenly had to hold the lid of an antique floor safe 24 years ago.

Since then, the Kitchener, Ont., resident has experienced varying degrees of pain from her waist to her toes, as well as developing fibromyalgia and debilitating migraines that initially lasted a week.

"My life with pain has been a real journey," said Cooper, who volunteers as president of the Canadian Pain Coalition, a non-profit advocacy group. 

Lynn Cooper walks and stretches to help relieve chronic pain, which affects one in five Canadians of all ages. ((Canadian Pain Coalition))

Cooper knows from personal experience that coping with chronic pain requires a shift in attitude and change in lifestyle, using strategies such as diet changes, prioritizing and pacing one's day, as well as physiotherapy, massage, acupuncture and appropriate exercises.

People with pain can feel lonely and desperate, Cooper said, adding there is a stigma associated with pain that sees sufferers being unfairly judged as malingerers and drug seekers.

The stigma stems from miscommunication and lack of understanding, but the group has created an online resource to help people with chronic pain to help themselves and promote awareness. 

Pain is misunderstood and undertreated, agreed Dr. Mary Lynch, president of the Canadian Pain Society, a companion group of health-care professionals.

Both groups applauded the Statistics Canada report for contributing to research on younger Canadians, noting that overall, studies suggest one in five Canadians suffer chronic pain.

In the Statistics Canada report, about nine per cent of males and 12 per cent of females aged 12 to 44 experienced chronic pain.

Fewer than five per cent in this age group reported arthritis, but among those who did, almost half reported chronic pain.

Seeking health care

Not surprisingly, those with chronic pain were more likely to say they turned to health-care professionals such as doctors, nurses, physiotherapists and psychologists, than people who were usually free of pain, including many services that are not covered by public health insurance.

For example, 19 per cent of males and 20 per cent of females with chronic pain consulted with a physiotherapist in the past 12 months compared with seven per cent of males and females who were generally pain-free.

As might be expected, people with chronic pain were less likely than those who were generally pain-free to consider their well-being positively.

More than 95 per cent of younger Canadians who were free of chronic pain described their health as good, very good or excellent compared with 80 per cent of males and 76 per cent of females with chronic pain.

Mood disorders and anxiety were more common among people with chronic pain. About 21 per cent of females with chronic pain had a mood disorder, and 18 per cent had an anxiety disorder.

In comparison, among women who were pain-free, there were six per cent who reported a mood disorder, and six per cent an anxiety disorder.

The data came from 2007-08 Canadian Community Health Survey.