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Chronic pain

"One in five Australian adults suffers from chronic pain. As well as posing large costs for the healthcare system, the human cost on individuals and families is also significant. However, there are positive steps you can take manage chronic pain and improve your quality of life." Dr Christine Bennett, Chair, Medical Advisory Panel, Bupa Australia

What is chronic pain? 

Chronic (or persistent) pain is something that continues, usually for more than three months - even after you've healed from an injury, surgery or another condition.

Short term (or acute) pain is brief and acts as a warning for the body to seek help. However, if pain doesn't go away and  has a physical and psychological impact, this pain can become chronic and a problem in its own right. Chronic pain can result in sleep deprivation, depression, irritability and fatigue, and may affect a person's personal and social relationships.

There are positive steps you can take to help prevent chronic pain or at least manage it effectively.

General statistics about chronic pain 

  • An estimated 20 percent of adult Australians suffer chronic pain. More women than men experience chronic pain. It's most common in women in the 50-54 age bracket and men in the 55-59 age bracket.
  • Injury is the most common cause of chronic pain (38 percent), though a further third of all people who experience chronic pain are unable to identify the original cause. Other identified causes include arthritis, musculoskeletal conditions, headache, cancer-related pain, post surgical persistent pain and non-specific lower back pain.
  • Chronic pain is estimated to cost the Australian economy $34.3 billion each year, which equates to $10,847 for each person with the condition.

What can be done to reduce chronic pain? 

  • It is possible to effectively manage 70-80 percent of chronic pain. Despite this, only 10 percent of those affected are getting access to adequate treatment.
  • Chronic pain is best managed collaboratively by a multidisciplinary team of health professionals.
  • If you have acute pain, it's important to have it assessed as soon as possible. Early assessment and intervention are important in preventing the progression from acute to chronic pain.

Further information 

Two of Bupa's Positive Health Guides focus on how to better manage chronic back pain and arthritis. These guides are based on up-to-date evidence-based medicine and research.


Pain Management Research Institute. About pain - Who suffers from pain? [online] University of Sydney. c2010-2011 [last updated 16 March 2011, accessed 28 June 2011] Available from:

Australian and New Zealand College of Anaesthetists and Faculty of Pain Medicine. Acute Pain Management: Scientific Evidence, 3rd ed. [online] 2010. [accessed 28 June 2011] Available from: (PDF, 3.4Mb)

Access Economics. The high price of pain: the economic impact of persistent pain in Australia. Nov 2007. The high price of pain: the economic impact of persistent pain in Australia. [online] MBF Foundation in collaboration with University of Sydney Pain Management Research Institute. 2007 [accessed 28 June 2011] 

Download: Bupa Health Foundation Pain Report (PDF, 1.7Mb)

Last published: 30 July 2011

This information has been developed and reviewed for Bupa by health professionals. To the best of their knowledge it is current and based on reputable sources of medical research. It should be used as a guide only and should not be relied upon as a substitute for professional medical or other health professional advice.

Bupa Australia Pty Ltd makes no warranties or representations regarding the completeness or accuracy of the information. Bupa Australia is not liable for any loss or damage you suffer arising out of the use of or reliance on the information. Except that which cannot be excluded by law. We recommend that you consult your doctor or other qualified health professional if you have questions or concerns about your health. For more details on how we produce our health content, visit the About our health information page.