Anna Zajacova, Hanna Grol-Prokopczyk, and Zachary Zimmer, “Sociology of Chronic Pain,” Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 2021
Image: A white woman sits on a bed in pajamas, her arms clutched around her midsection in pain. Image courtesy of pixabay, Pixabay License.

How does pain affect the well-being of an individual? What about the well-being of a society?

In a recent article, Anna Zajacova, Hanna Grol-Prokopczyk, and Zachary Zimmer argue that chronic pain is a social issue with consequences beyond medicine

In 2016, the CDC estimated that 20% of U.S. adults experience chronic pain. Chronic pain is a distinct phenomenon of suffering and disability that has significant mental and physical impacts. Chronic pain is different from acute pain from a temporary injury, such as a broken bone or a burn. A person who experiences chronic pain is more likely to suffer from anxiety or depression, and twice as likely to commit suicide. 

Chronic pain disproportionately impacts certain groups. Overall, women experience slightly higher levels of pain than men. People with lower socioeconomic status experience significantly more chronic pain. For instance, individuals without a high school diploma experience three times the amount of severe pain than college graduates. These findings demonstrate that pain is connected to broader social inequalities and conditions. 

The seemingly private experience of pain has wide-ranging social dimensions and implications that require further study. Our suffering may be individually felt, but it must also be collectively understood, especially if we are to make real progress in advancing the health and well-being of all.