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Open Access Research article

Severely disabling chronic pain in young adults: prevalence from a population-based postal survey in North Staffordshire

Christian Mallen*, George Peat, Elaine Thomas and Peter Croft

Author Affiliations

Primary Care Sciences Research Centre, Keele University, Staffordshire, UK

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BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders 2005, 6:42  doi:10.1186/1471-2474-6-42

Published: 21 July 2005

Abstract

Background

Severely disabling chronic pain in the adult population is strongly associated with a range of negative health consequences for individuals and high health care costs, yet its prevalence in young adults is less clear.

Methods

All adults aged 18–25 years old registered with three general practices in North Staffordshire were invited to complete a postal questionnaire containing questions on pain within the last 6 months, pain location and duration. Severity of chronic pain was assessed by the Chronic Pain Grade. Severely disabling chronic pain was defined as pain within the last six months that had lasted for three months or more and was highly disabling-severely limiting (Grade IV).

Results

858 responses from 2,389 were received (adjusted response = 37.0%). The prevalence of any pain within the previous six months was 66.9% (95%CI: 63.7%, 70.1%). Chronic pain was reported by 14.3% (95%CI: 12.0%, 16.8%) of respondents with severely disabling chronic pain affecting 3.0% (95%CI: 2.0%, 4.4%) of this population. Late responders were very similar to early responders in their prevalence of pain. Cross-checking the practice register against the electoral roll suggested register inaccuracies contributed to non-response.

Conclusion

Pain is a common phenomenon encountered by young adults, affecting 66.9% of this study population. Previously observed age-related trends in severely disabling chronic pain in older adults extend to younger adults. Although a small minority of younger adults are affected, they are likely to represent a group with particularly high health care needs. High levels of non-response in the present study means that these estimates should be interpreted cautiously although there was no evidence of non-response bias.