People in Pain: How Do They Seek Relief?

Qiuling Shi, Gary Langer, Jon Cohen, Charles S. Cleeland

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Little is known about how people with pain seek relief. To estimate the proportion of the population reporting recent pain, to identify ways people seek pain relief, and to report the perceived effectiveness of pain relief methods, we conducted a secondary analysis of results from a nationwide survey of the general U.S. population. Of the 1204 respondents, 31% had experienced moderate to very severe pain within the past 2 weeks and 75% of these had sought medical attention. Only 56% of those who sought medical attention got significant pain relief. Although seeking medical attention was the primary pain relief strategy, almost all of those with pain had tried multiple alternative methods for pain control, with 92% of pain sufferers having tried 3 or more alternative strategies. People who did not seek medical attention were more likely to report pain relief from prayer and going to a chiropractor than were those who sought medical attention. Factors leading to inadequate pain relief included difficulty communicating with a health professional and lack of health insurance. People who perceive that their pain is not understood by medical providers and those without health care insurance coverage are at greater risk for poor pain control. Perspective: This article presents an analysis of data from a national survey on pain and the effectiveness of ways people seek pain relief. Difficulty communicating with health professionals and lack of health insurance contributed to inadequate pain relief. Almost all people with pain used multiple methods to control their pain.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)624-636
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Pain
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 2007
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Supported by the Hawn Foundation Training Program in Symptom Research, ABC News, Stanford University Medical Center, and USA Today.


  • National survey
  • pain
  • pain coping

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neurology
  • Clinical Neurology
  • Anesthesiology and Pain Medicine


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