A population in pain: Report from the Olmsted County health study

Emmeline A. Watkins, Peter C. Wollan, L. Joseph Melton, Barbara P. Yawn

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

77 Scopus citations


Background. Pain is poorly understood on a population level. This study provides updated estimates of the prevalence, location, severity, and impact of pain in a U.S. community and discusses current definitions of "chronic" pain. Outcome Measures. We mailed four-page surveys to a random sample of 5,897 adult residents of Olmsted County, MN. The survey asked about participant pain (location, duration, severity, and impact), as well as satisfaction with pain-related health care. Results. Of the 3,575 responders (61%), 64.4% reported having chronic pain (>3 months' duration); 6.9% reported subacute pain (1-3 months); and 9.9% reported acute pain (<1 month). Body regions with the highest prevalence of pain were the head (31.9%), lower back (37.7%), and joints (59.5%). Chronic pain sufferers had more days per months with pain, more moderate or severe pain, and greater levels of interference with general activities and sleep than the people with acute and subacute pain. Almost two-thirds of those with chronic pain (63%) reported multiple pain locations. Several chronic pain sufferers gave fair or poor ratings for the quality of care (13.3% of those rating) or the effectiveness of treatment (28.1%) for pain. Conclusions. The prevalence of chronic pain is high, often in more than one location, and over 21% of chronic pain sufferers report dissatisfaction with current care.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)166-174
Number of pages9
JournalPain Medicine
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 2008


  • Adults
  • Chronic pain
  • Frequency
  • Impact
  • Population-based
  • Prevalence
  • Treatment

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Neurology
  • Anesthesiology and Pain Medicine


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