Summary

Chronic pain is common in Australia. One in 5 Australians aged 45 and over are living with persistent, ongoing pain. This pain can be disabling and stressful, making it hard for a person to work and do the things they enjoy. More people are seeing their general practitioner (GP) for chronic pain. In 2018, chronic pain cost an estimated $139 billion in Australia, mostly through reduced quality of life and productivity losses.

This report provides insight into the experience of Australians managing chronic pain. It explores the latest national data on the proportion of people with chronic pain, as well as its impact, treatment and management.

What is chronic pain?

Chronic pain is pain that lasts beyond normal healing time after injury or illness—generally 3 to 6 months. It is a common and complex condition, and the pain experienced can be anything from mild to severe. The defining characteristic of chronic pain is that it is ongoing and experienced on most days of the week.

Chronic pain can result from injury, surgery, musculoskeletal conditions such as arthritis, or other medical conditions such as cancer, endometriosis or migraines. In some cases, there may be no apparent physical cause (Treede et al. 2015; Painaustralia 2019a).

Pain that is acute, or short-term, is a response to damaged tissue and usually disappears once the tissue has healed. Chronic pain is more complex, and may result from damage to body tissue from an acute or chronic condition, or changes in the nerves or nervous system that result in the nerves continuing to signal pain after the original condition has healed (Painaustralia 2019a).

Chronic pain can affect a person’s use of health care and ability to work, exercise and socialise (Hadi et al. 2018; Duenas et al. 2016). People with chronic pain are more likely than those without chronic pain to experience mental health conditions, including depression, anxiety, sleep disturbance and fatigue (Painaustralia 2019a).

1.6 million (1 in 5) Australians aged 45 and over had chronic pain in 2016. People with
chronic pain are 5 times as likely as those without pain to be ‘limited a lot’ in daily activities. GPs are seeing more people for chronic pain—
patient encounters have risen by 67%25 over 10 years. People with chronic pain are almost 3 times as likely to be dispensed opioids and other analgesics and migraine medication as those without pain.In 2017–18, there were nearly 105,000 hospitalisations involving chronic pain.