Costs force chronic pain sufferers to skip essentials

Managing pain is a difficult enough task when the condition is only temporary. Even a few nights of reduced or lost sleep as a result of pain and discomfort can be quite debilitating. For chronic pain sufferers, though, such challenges last months, even years.

Managing that pain not only taxes other aspects of the sufferer’s health, but it can also claim a sizeable chunk of their finances.

And, according to the results of a new survey conducted by advocacy group Chronic Pain Australia (CPA), it’s not just a few sufferers whose budgets are being squeezed. The organisation’s survey of 1500 people found that as many as 70 per cent have sacrificed food and other essentials to pay for medication and health specialists.

Read: Chronic pain causes brain changes that increase depression and anxiety

These alarming figures were released last week by CPA to coincide with National Pain Week, aimed at promoting awareness of the complex challenges faced by sufferers, with a particular focus this year on “advocating to ensure that all Australians living with chronic pain receive Triple A standards of care – Awareness, Accessibility and Affordability”.

It is the last of those, affordability, that is of particular concern. Chronic Pain Australia president Fiona Hodson says that the high cost of treatments is leading some sufferers to ‘self-medicate’ through alcohol or non-medicinal cannabis.

Adding to the problem, the survey found that people living with chronic pain continue to feel stigmatised by family, work colleagues and even many of the health professionals who they turn to for help and support.

Almost half of the survey’s respondents (45 per cent) said that they felt stigmatised for their condition by their own GPs. In the workplace, about a quarter of the respondents felt stigmatised by colleagues and/or their employer.

Read: ‘How I have stopped chronic pain from defining my life’

One sufferer said, “Doctors understand the disease, but they don’t understand the impact. Until they start seeing patients as people who have insights and can teach them, we’re never going to get better at this.”

A rise in the cost-of-living has placed further pressures on chronic pain sufferers, with many struggling to cover the costs of essential items while managing their condition.

The CHA survey reported that “respondents spend significant sums per month on chronic pain management, with over half spending over $200 per month out of pocket for medical specialists, including rheumatologists, neurologists, psychologists, and others. 55 per cent of survey respondents said they were unable to afford allied health services, and 54 per cent were unable to afford medical specialists.”

Read: Three expert tips on managing chronic pain

In response to the survey, CHA has made six recommendations:

  1.  Government should utilise such results to make more in-depth decisions and informed policy decisions about the accessibility and affordability of healthcare and medications.
  2. Telehealth should be promoted by government agencies and private general practitioners.
  3. Provide cheaper options for the highest quality of care to reduce the long-term burden on both the person living with chronic pain and the broader health system.
  4. General practitioners and other health professionals must approach patients with chronic pain with openness of treatment options.
  5. Public policy should encourage comprehensive education and chronic pain management training.
  6. Pharmacists and general practitioners must emphasise the free, government-covered services available for their patients, such as the National Medication Management Plan.

Ms Hobson lamented that, despite 2022 being the 12th annual iteration of National Pain Week, the challenges faced by chronic sufferers remain much the same more than a decade later.

“CPA has consistently found through the annual National Pain Survey that people living with chronic pain continue to feel stigmatised by family, work colleagues and even many of the health professionals who they turn to for help and support,” she said. “This creates further isolation and co contributes to the poor mental health of the chronic pain community. Sadly, this year’s survey results show little has changed.”

Do you suffer from chronic pain? Do you know someone who does? Why not share your experience and thoughts in the comments section below?

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Andrew Gigacz
Andrew Gigacz
Andrew has developed knowledge of the retirement landscape, including retirement income and government entitlements, as well as issues affecting older Australians moving into or living in retirement. He's an accomplished writer with a passion for health and human stories.


  1. A GP once said to me, “We only have your word for it that you’re in pain.” How this individual managed to acquire a medical degree baffles me to this day. Maybe he found it in the bottom of an empty cereal box – I dunno!

    What an utterly inane comment from a medical (supposedly) professional.

    I suffer from Myalgic Encephalomyelitis, otherwise called “chronic fatigue syndrome (a neurological disorder), which has been misdiagnosed as Fibromyalgia (a muscular/neuralgic condition).

    I have found that most GPs and even specialists fail to recognise all one’s symptoms as a whole that together may point to something other than each symptom alone may indicate.

    My list of symptoms covers two full typed A4 pages, which collectively point to more than any of them as isolated incidents. None of the medical professionals I have consulted (GPs and various pain specialists) has considered these symptoms as a whole. At best, they’ve only considered one or two of the symptoms listed in isolation, with testing drawing a blank/negative.

    To say that I’m frustrated is a classic understatement. I’m not winging here, merely highlighting a point.

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