Researchers at Princeton University in New Jersey and Stony Brook University in New York used a novel method to assess the percentage of people experiencing pain and its severity at randomly selected times in a representative sample of U.S. residents. According to results published in the May 3, 2008, Lancet, more than a quarter of American men and women report feeling pain at any point in time, and those with lower incomes and less education spent more time in pain and had higher than average pain.
Collecting diary information through a community-based telephone survey, Drs. Alan Krueger and Arthur Stone found that 29 percent of men and 27 percent of women said they felt some pain at sampled times. People with lower incomes or less education spent a higher proportion of time in pain and reported feeling more severe pain than those with higher incomes or more education. The average pain rating increased with age, although it reached a temporary plateau between the ages of 45 and 75 before rising again above age 75. Information was not collected on the cause, location, treatment, or duration of the pain. Medical conditions that might have caused the pain were not identified.
An important aspect of this NIA-funded study was the measurement of pain during specific random periods of time rather than the global assessment typically used in population studies. This approach allowed researchers to study how pain affected activities of daily living in particular segments of the sample population.