High-Impact Chronic Pain: A Data Visualization

high-impact chronic pain

Fifty million of US adults have chronic pain and 20 million of US adults have high-impact chronic pain (HICP). Age, sex, education level, employment status, and poverty status are major contributors to HICP.

Published November 10, 2020

Editor’s note: More and more, pain researchers are discovering that not all chronic pain is the same. One of the best illustrations of this phenomenon is the impact of chronic pain on function: some people who report lots of pain, whether from a back injury, fibromyalgia, arthritis, or some other condition may function quite well, while others who report less pain may function poorly. This recognition has given rise to the concept of “High-Impact Chronic Pain” (HICP) – chronic pain that often interferes with life or work activities – and researchers have already begun to measure it.

RELIEF’s first data visualization (see below) brings the idea of HICP into focus, depicting the extent of the problem and the factors that contribute to it. The visualization is based on a US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) analysis of 2016 National Health Interview Survey (NHIS) data. The NHIS is a survey of the civilian non-institutionalized US population that was conducted by the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS), a part of the CDC.

The survey asked participants, “In the past six months, how often did you have pain? Would you say never, some days, most days, or every day?” and “Over the past six months, how often did pain limit your life or work activities? Would you say never, some days, most days, or every day?” Chronic pain was defined as pain on most days or every day in the past 6 months, and high-impact chronic pain was defined as chronic pain that limited life or work activities on most days or every day during the past 6 months.

The visualization focuses on the approximately 20 million of adults in the United States who suffer from HICP (50 million of US adults have chronic pain) and some of the key factors that contribute to it, including age, sex, education level, employment status and poverty status. (See here for a different study that reached similar conclusions about the extent of HICP, along with a related IASP Pain Research Forum news article). A PDF version of the visualization is available here for those whose web browser does not support this format, particularly Internet Explorer.

The team at RELIEF hopes you enjoy our first foray into the world of data visualizations. Our goal with this project is to increase awareness of one of the most pressing problems that so many people with chronic pain face every day.

Note: In order to see the visualization better (online or in the PDF version), we recommend that you navigate to “View” in your web browser menu bar and then zoom in.

Made with Visme Infographic Maker

Editor’s note: Although not depicted in the visualization, rural residents were more likely to report HICP than urban residents, as were those with public health insurance. Also, as we went to press, the NCHS reported a new analysis of chronic pain and high-impact chronic pain that survey participants reported having in the last three months. It reached similar conclusions, finding that HICP was highest among women and the elderly, though some differences according to race and Hispanic origin were identified too.

This data visualization was created by Laura Sirucek, a PhD student at the University of Zurich, Switzerland.

Data source:
Prevalence of Chronic Pain and High-Impact Chronic Pain Among Adults – United States, 2016.
Dahlhamer J, Lucas J, Zelaya C, Nahin R, Mackey S, Debar L, Kerns R, Von Korff M, Porter L, Helmick C
MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2018 Sep 14; 67(36):1001-1006.