Why It's Essential To Treat Chronic Pain In Your 40s Right Away

Across the country, over 1 in 5 adults are affected by chronic pain, according to 2022 research published in the scientific journal Pain. Living with chronic pain — most often experienced in the back, hip, knee, or foot — can pose significant limitations on our day-to-day functioning, social interactions, and ability to work.

Now, a new longitudinal study published in PLOS ONE reveals some of the specific ways in which both short-term and long-term chronic pain can affect us later in life. Researchers analyzed health data from over 12,000 European participants who were all born in 1958 within the same designated week. Starting at the average age of 44, around 50% of total participants reported having pain that persisted for one or more days. The study team continued to collect survey data regarding health status, well-being, and employment as participants aged into their 50s and 60s. Findings showed that those who experienced either short-term or long-term pain starting at 44 years old were more likely to report the continuation of pain and poor overall health status in the nearly 20 years to follow. This link was most prevalent among people with chronic pain. Researchers defined chronic pain as pain endured for a period of three months or more, while short-term pain was characterized by pain lasting less than three months to as little as one day.

Why chronic pain treatment needs a well-rounded approach

In addition to continued pain later in life, the study findings revealed a relationship between chronic pain reported at age 44 and poorer mental health, a pessimistic outlook towards the future, and lack of employment in participants by their mid-50s. Such findings were based on self-reported data from participants regarding feelings of depression, energy levels, malaise, optimism, quality of sleep, and more. This relationship was not observed in connection to short-term pain experienced at 44 years of age. Pain at this age was also shown to be an indicator of whether a person contracted COVID-19 in their 60s.

Because chronic pain can be a multi-faceted health issue often involving one's physical health, mental health, and lifestyle, experts stress the need for more comprehensive treatment methods catering to all aspects of the condition, and the earlier the better. "Based on this paper, I believe physicians can take a more multi-disciplinary approach to treat chronic pain more thoroughly," Dr. Alex Dimitriu, founder of Menlo Park Psychiatry & Sleep Medicine and BrainfoodMD, told Healthline. "Rather than pain medication alone, lifestyle habits, such as exercise, diet, and sleep should be optimized. Improving moods and mental states can also play a key role in reducing the actual sensation of pain and minimizing negative health impacts."