Sociology of chronic pain

Chronic pain is a common, costly, and consequential health problem. However, despite some important analytic contributions, sociological research on pain has not yet coalesced into a unified subfield. In our 2021 Journal of Health and Social Behavior paper, we examined three interrelated bodies of evidence and illustrative new empirical findings using 2010 to 2018 National Health Interview Survey data to argue that pain should have a central role in sociological investigations of health. Specifically, we contend that (1) pain is a sensitive barometer of population health and well-being, (2) pain is emblematic of many contested and/or chronic conditions, and (3) pain and pain treatment reflect and have wide-ranging implications for public policy. Overall, whether pain is analyzed quantitatively or qualitatively—focusing on its distribution in the population, its social causes and consequences, or its subjective meanings for individuals—pain reflects social conditions, sociopolitical context, and health-related beliefs of a society. Pain is thus an important frontier for future sociological research.