May 03, 2008
Chronic Pain An Ugly Side Of Aging

Some argue that aging is a dignified and life-enriching process. But the accumulation of damage to the body exacts a terrible price in human suffering.

A novel study that attempts to paint the most accurate and detailed description yet of how Americans experience pain has found that a significant portion of the population -- 28 percent -- are in pain at any given moment and those with less education and lower income spend more of their time in pain. Those in pain are less likely to work or socialize with others and are more inclined to watch television than the pain-free.

The study, which appears in the May 3 issue of The Lancet, was prepared by Alan Krueger, a professor of economics at Princeton University, and Arthur Stone, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral science at Stony Brook University. The work is the first of its type, according to the authors, to quantify a "pain gap" in American society, with the "have-nots" suffering a disproportionate amount in relation to the "haves."

This focus on a "pain gap" distracts from the more basic problem: our bodies wear out as we age and the accumulated damage causes pain. Our limited capacity to regenerate our bodies means that many of us suffer as we age.

One problem is that manual laborers suffer more wear and tear on their bodies.

Workers in blue collar jobs reported higher occurrences and more severe pain than did those in white collar jobs. For blue collar workers, pain was lower when they were off work than when they were working. The 13 percent of people who reported a work-related disability experienced very high rates of pain, and accounted for 44 percent of the total amount of time that Americans spent in moderate to severe pain.

But keep in mind that 56% of those suffering moderate to severe pain did not get it as a result of a work-related injury. Some get injuries in sports, car accidents, and in other activities. Others get damaged by rheumatoid arthritis and other auto-immune disorders. Still others just get worn out joints and connective tissue from the aging process. The result is chronic pain and suffering. Shouldn't we want to develop regenerative therapies to reverse this decay and end the suffering that so many of us are otherwise destined for?

Once you get the painful injury the suffering lasts for decades.

Alarmingly, those in pain were likely to suffer over years, even decades. "The pain doesn't go away in many cases, when people stop working," Krueger said. Pain was higher and more common for older individuals, but the amount of pain reported remained relatively constant for individuals from their mid-40s to their mid-70s.

We need stem cell therapies, tissue engineering techniques, and gene therapies that will fix damaged tissue and eliminate the causes of chronic pain.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2008 May 03 10:37 PM  Aging Population Problems

Trisha said at May 5, 2008 6:49 PM:

I'm one to argue that aging is most definitely not a dignified or life-enriching process. There are quite a few of us who feel that way too:

But how do we convince the rest of the world? Those still under the pro-aging trance?

Randall Parker said at May 5, 2008 8:07 PM:


Repetition. Find different ways to illustrates the terrible ravages of aging.

Nick G said at May 6, 2008 12:18 PM:


People accommodate themselves emotionally to dying, because they have no hope for the alternative - indefinite good health.

The most important way to change this is to give them hope: demonstrate that indefinite good health is possible. For instance we might do it in rats. When these kinds of milestones build up, things will explode.

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