We are using cookies to give you the best experience on our site. Cookies are files stored in your browser and are used by most websites to help personalise your web experience.

By continuing to use our website without changing the settings, you are agreeing to our use of cookies.

Find out more
For more information, go to

How common is pain?

Data comes from:

  • Surveys of the general population seeking current reports of any pain, and if present, whether it is sufficient to cause interference with daily activities.
  • Data on the contribution of musculoskeletal disorders to the occurrence of disability in the population.

Musculoskeletal pain is very common in the population, although much may be self-limiting and not require medical care. In answer to the question “In the past 4 weeks have you had pain that has lasted for one day or longer in any part of your body?”

The following are typical data by gender from a recent general population survey in Staffordshire and nearby areas:

Age group   Females Males 
 50 - 59  69%  66%
 60 - 69  69%  68%
 70 - 79  64%  61%
 80+  66%  57%


A more robust view of the importance of such pain is an understanding of whether it interferes with normal activities. Thus in the same survey as above, the question “During the past 4 weeks, how much did pain interfere with your normal work (including housework)?”, showed that this was true for between a third and a half of all the population aged over 50.

How often does pain interfere with normal activities?

Age group  Females  Males
 50 - 59  32%  33%
 60 - 69  38%  39%
 70 - 79  43%  37%
 80+  50%  41%


How common is chronic pain?

Many musculoskeletal pains are fortunately short lived but a substantial proportion of the population complain of persistent disabling pain. A population study of 5,000 people on chronic pain (defined as ‘pain or discomfort that persisted continuously or intermittently for longer than 3 months’) has shown that across all age groups chronic pain affects at least 10% of the population. Chronic back pain is the commonest source of pain. Pain due to self-reported arthritis, which is mainly, though not exclusively caused by osteoarthritis, is uncommon in young adults but becomes increasingly common as the population ages. Nearly three in ten of all those aged over 75 are in chronic pain due to arthritis.

 Age group  Back pain  Arthritis
 25 - 34  12%  1%
 35 - 44  17%  5%
 45 - 54  18%  12%
 55 - 64  19%  20%
 65 - 74  15%  26%
 >75  15%  28%
 Total population  16%  15.8%



  1. Thomas E, Peat G, Harris L, Wilkie R, Croft PR. The prevalence of pain and pain interference in a general population of older adults: cross-sectional findings from the North Staffordshire Osteoarthritis Project (NorStOP). Pain 2004; 110(1-2):361-8.
  2. Elliott AM, Smith BH, Penny KI, Smith WC, Chambers WA. The epidemiology of chronic pain in the community. Lancet 1999; 354(9186):1248-52
Back to Musculoskeletal pain and disability
For more information, go to or call 0300 790 0400 to order the complete printed booklet.
Arthritis Research UK fund research into the cause, treatment and cure of arthritis. You can support Arthritis Research UK by volunteering, donating or visiting our shops.