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Survey Finds More Than Half of Americans May Be Suffering in Silence with Chronic Pain

Results reveal many Americans wait to seek treatment despite high pain levels and regardless of global pandemic

Survey Finds More Than Half of Americans May Be Suffering in Silence with Chronic Pain

Results reveal many Americans wait to seek treatment despite high pain levels and regardless of global pandemic

BOLINGBROOK, Ill., (July 7, 2020) – A recent survey commissioned by ATI Physical Therapy (ATI), one of the nation’s largest providers of physical therapy services, reveals 88% of Americans have previously experienced chronic back/neck/knee pain, or musculoskeletal (MSK) pain, but only 76% have sought professional help for pain management. Conducted by global market research firm The Harris Poll among over 2,000 U.S. adults, the consumer behavior survey sought to examine Americans’ behavior in relation to chronic MSK pain, pain thresholds and pain management.

The survey results suggest many Americans wait until their pain becomes unbearable before seeking treatment – regardless of a pandemic or not – needlessly suffering in silence. Nearly three in five Americans (59%) say they seek professional help for pain management when they experience chronic back/neck/knee pain for a week or longer. Additionally, roughly half of Americans (51%) say on a scale from one to ten that a pain level of 7 or more prompts them to seek professional help for treatment of chronic back/neck/knee pain.

Dr. Charles Thigpen, PhD, PT, ATC, Sr Director of Practice Innovation & Analytics for ATI, suggests that many Americans delay treatment for pain due to lack of awareness of options such as physical therapy. The delay in treatment often leads to opioids for pain, unnecessary advanced imaging like MRIs or even surgery resulting in costly treatments that don’t always work. Physical therapy is lesser known by patients as an option, but is effective and cost-efficient for treating and resolving chronic MSK pain. In fact, physical therapists can diagnose and treat over 70% of MSK conditions directly without a primary care or specialty physician, both in-person and via telehealth, according to a study by the Journal of Orthopedic & Sports Physical Therapy.

“These results suggest many Americans consider high pain levels to be ‘normal,’ but it doesn’t have to be this way. Physical therapists can provide an accurate diagnosis and the best path of care, while saving patients money, time and peace of mind,” said Dr. Thigpen. “In today’s climate, virtual physical therapy sessions offer a safe way for patients suffering from chronic MSK pain to receive the critical care their body needs and deserves, helping them achieve wellness from the comfort of their homes and with the help of a licensed physical or occupational therapist.”

Additional survey findings include:

  • American consumers ages 35-44 are the most likely to seek professional help for pain management when experiencing chronic back/neck/knee pain (84% vs. 77% ages 18-34, 73% ages 45-54, 75% ages 55-64 and 69% ages 65+).
  • Women (55%) are more likely to wait to seek help when experiencing chronic back/neck/knee pain than men (47%), until the pain level is 7 or higher.
  • A similar proportion of Americans across all household income (HHI) levels are prompted to seek pain management when experiencing chronic back/neck/knee pain levels of 7 or higher (50% of those with annual HHI of less than $50k, 55% of those with annual HHI of $50k-$74.9k, 52% of those with annual HHI of $75k-$99.9k and 51% of those with annual HHI of $100k+), suggesting income is not a barrier to those in need of treatment.
  • Majority of Americans wait one week or longer to seek professional help for pain management of chronic back/neck/knee pain regardless of the U.S. region they’re located in (61% in Northeast, 55% in South, 62% in Midwest, 61% in West).

“ATI Physical Therapy has worked tirelessly to ensure our clinics and telehealth services are readily available to offer a continuity of care for those in need of safe and effective pain management solutions. Living in pain should not be the new normal,” said Ray Wahl, Chief Operations Officer for ATI. “No matter what challenges life throws our way, we envision a world where all patients have access to cost-effective and non-evasive choices in their treatment of MSK-related issues.”

Physical therapy not only provides pain relief, but it also resolves pain more effectively and helps avoid additional medical care. A study in the Journal of Orthopedic & Sports Physical Therapy found 68% of patients with direct access to PT had resolved symptoms without further medical treatment. Other studies, including a May 2018 study published in Health Services Research, have shown that PT decreases costs of other types of pain management treatments including 89% lower probability of needing an opioid prescription, 28% lower probability of having imaging services and 15% lower probability of a costly ER visit.

Survey Method: This survey was conducted online within the United States by The Harris Poll on behalf of ATI Physical Therapy from June 4-8, 2020 among 2,046 U.S. adults ages 18 and older. This online survey is not based on a probability sample and therefore no estimate of theoretical sampling error can be calculated. For complete survey methodology, including weighting variables and subgroup sample sizes, please contact Clifton O’Neal.


Clifton O’Neal, Director, Corporate Communications

ATI Physical Therapy



About ATI Physical Therapy

At ATI Physical Therapy we are passionate about potential. Every day, we restore it in our patients and activate it our team members in our more than 850 locations across the U.S. With proven results from more than 2.5 million unique patient episodes, ATI is leading the industry by setting best practice standards that deliver predictable outcomes for our patients with musculoskeletal (MSK) issues. Designated as a Great Place to Work®, ATI’s offerings span the healthcare spectrum for MSK-related issues. From preventative services in the workplace and athletic training support to home health, outpatient clinical services and online physical therapy via ATI CONNECT™, a complete list of our service offerings can be found at ATI is based in Bolingbrook, Illinois.