Survey commissioned by Foundation for Chiropractic Progress on physical pain and mental health also finds Americans living in the Northeast are affected at higher rates
Nearly half of U.S. adults (44%) report that they have experienced physical pain that they believe was worsened due to mental or emotional pain, according to a Harris Poll on physical pain and mental health conducted on behalf of the Foundation for Chiropractic Progress (F4CP), a nonprofit dedicated to informing and educating the general public about the value of chiropractic care.
Mental health was thrust into the spotlight during the COVID-19 pandemic as people, faced with a new virus, became isolated in their homes away from friends, family, and support networks, leading to:
- A 25% growth in the prevalence of anxiety and depression, according to the World Health Organization
- During the 2020 peak of the pandemic, mental health visits represented 40% of telehealth visits, according to KHN (Kaiser Health News)
- That same year, the Journal of Psychiatric Research reported that from 1990 to 2017, worldwide cases of depression grew from 172 million to 258 million, representing an increase of 50%
Even before the pandemic, though, the U.S. faced another nationwide health crisis of physical pain and mental health. A study released in 2021 showed that pain prevalence had grown 10% from 2002-18 across adults ages 25-84. Chronic pain has a strong association with opioid and substance use disorder – another public health crisis that worsened during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The link between physical pain and mental health is well established in the health care community, but COVID-19 broadened the public’s understanding of this association and how managing one condition without treating the other is counterproductive,” said Sherry McAllister, DC, president of F4CP. “Doctors of chiropractic (DCs) have always recognized this connection and strive to manage every neuromusculoskeletal condition effectively. If they determine a patient needs care outside their scope, DCs are happy to refer and collaborate with other healthcare providers to help their patients achieve all of their physical and mental health goals.”
Physical pain and mental health: age, sex and geographical differences
Concerningly, this link between worsened physical pain and mental health is more common among younger poll participants. For example, the Harris Poll shows that more than half of 18-to-34-year-old (53%) and 35-to-44-year-old participants (61%) report they have experienced physical pain they believe was worsened by mental or emotional pain. Only 23% of participants 65 years old and older report that mental or emotional pain worsened their physical pain.
“Younger adults consume much more technology, both during work and personal time,” McAllister said. “Scientific correlations are linking the mass use of technology in the last 30 years with the upsurge of anxiety and depression that we are seeing across the globe. In the chiropractic profession, we have long recognized the role of thoughts, trauma and toxins, which we refer to as ‘the 3T’s’ in the realm of health and disease. Technology in this sense has become a toxin that also affects our thoughts and drives behaviors.”
Another disparity between participants is that 48% of women report worse physical pain due to mental or emotional pain compared to only 39% of men. Women ages 35 to 44 most often reported the link (69%) while men ages 65 and older least often reported greater physical pain due to mental or emotional pain (17%).
Clinical research has demonstrated differences between men and women in pain sensitivity and response to pain management, across acute and chronic pain. Research has also found women experience greater clinical pain, suffer greater pain-related distress and show heightened sensitivity to experimentally induced pain compared with men, which may also account for the variation in poll responses.
Geography appears to play a role, too, with 49% of poll participants in the northeast region of the U.S. reporting greater physical pain due to emotional or mental pain compared to 40% of poll participants in the western region of the country. A number of factors could play a role in the geographic disparity, McAllister says, including weather, with some research showing more sunlight being associated with lower depression. Paradoxically, since the northeast U.S. has some of the highest access to mental and behavioral health professionals, it could be greater awareness of mental health challenges that influenced the survey results.
“Everyone suffers from pain at some point in their life and it is up to the entire health care community to not just treat symptoms, but rather identify and manage all of the root causes of these conditions whether they be in the bones, nervous system, muscles or mind,” McAllister said. “The results of this Harris Poll will hopefully remind and inspire health care professionals to approach every patient holistically to help them achieve optimal outcomes.”
To learn more about the physical pain and mental health connection, download the F4CP eBook: Depression, Dopamine and Drug-Free Interventions: How Chiropractic Care is Supporting Mental Health.
This survey was conducted online within the United States by The Harris Poll on behalf of the Foundation for Chiropractic Progress between June 14-16, 2022 among 2,039 U.S. adults ages 18+. The sampling precision of Harris online polls is measured by using a Bayesian credible interval. For this study, the sample data is accurate to within + 2.8 percentage points using a 95% confidence level. For complete survey methodology, including weighting variables and subgroup sample sizes, please contact email@example.com.
About the Foundation for Chiropractic Progress
A not-for-profit organization with nearly 32,000 members, the Foundation for Chiropractic Progress (F4CP) informs and educates the general public about the value of chiropractic care delivered by doctors of chiropractic (DC) and its role in drug-free pain management. Visit www.f4cp.org/findadoc; call 866-901-F4CP (3427).