The BMJ Open authors worked out the new estimate by searching thousands of medical studies to find the best available data to quantify the burden.
By their calculations, between a third and half of UK adults experience pain that lasts for more than three months.
With an ageing population, they predict the toll will rise in the future.
Dr Alan Fayaz and his team combined data from 19 studies involving around 140,000 people to get a “best estimate” for chronic pain.
While they can’t be sure about the exact causes or severity of pain, they say their findings should help with planning NHS care.
The data suggests that:
- 43% of the estimated 65 million population experience some form of chronic pain and 14% of UK adults live with chronic widespread pain.
- 8% of UK adults experience chronic nerve (neuropathic) pain
- 5.5% live with fibromyalgia – a long-term condition that causes simultaneous pain in many different parts of the body.
- Women were more likely than men to be affected by chronic pain, irrespective of age or pain type
Pain is often a symptom of another underlying medical condition, but Dr Fayaz says it should be seen a disease in itself and taken more seriously by society.
Olivia Belle from Arthritis Research UK, which part-funded the work, said: “Although we may not be able to see it, living in pain, day in and day out, can have a devastating impact on people’s lives, affecting their independence, mobility and ability to stay in work. There is also, unsurprisingly, a direct link between chronic pain and depression.
“If we are going to address this growing need, we need better pain management and better treatments to relieve pain.”