More than two-fifths of Britons in their forties suffer from chronic pain, research has suggested, which can leave them at greater risk of falling out of the labour market by their fifties or sixties.
People who suffered from chronic pain by the age of 44 were more like to report pain, poor general health, poor mental health outcomes and joblessness in their fifties and sixties, according to the study published in the open-access journal PLOS ONE.
The research, by Professor David Blanchflower of Dartmouth College in US and Professor Alex Bryson of University College London, studied more than 12,000 people enrolled in the National Child Development Survey, a study following all those born in a single week in March 1958 in England, Scotland and Wales.
Overall, two-fifths of those in their forties reported suffering chronic pain, or pain lasting at least three months.
The study pinpointed multiple factors predicting pain at this age. These included a person’s father’s social class at birth as well as pain in childhood.
Both short-term and chronic pain at age 44 were associated with pain and poor health in later decades of life, with these associations strongest for chronic pain.
Chronic health conditions
Among those reporting chronic pain at age 44, 84% still reported “very severe” pain at age 50. Chronic pain, although not short-term pain, was also associated with poor mental health outcomes, lower life satisfaction, pessimism about the future, poor sleep and joblessness at age 55.
Intriguingly, there was also a correlation between chronic pain and the higher likelihood of being infected with Covid-19 20 years later, in 2021, when participants were aged 62.
There was, too, a link between coronavirus infection and educational qualifications, as 50% of people without qualifications also reported experiencing chronic pain. By comparison, 36% of degree holders and 27% with a higher degree had chronic pain.
The authors concluded that chronic pain shows persistence across the life-course and is, in part, passed between generations.
“Tracking a birth cohort across their life-course we find chronic pain is highly persistent. It is associated with poor mental health outcomes later in life including depression, as well as leading to poorer general health and joblessness,” they argued.
“We hope the study highlights the need for academics and policy makers to focus more attention on the problems of chronic pain,” Professor Blanchflower and Professor Bryson added.