A scoping review of chronic pain in emerging adults
Much of the adult chronic pain literature addresses pain in typical pain cohorts of middle-aged to older individuals. To date, research has focused on chronic pain in younger adults, who likely have a completely different pain experience. This scoping review aimed to address this gap by describing the emerging adult (18–29 years) chronic pain experience regarding prevalence, associated factors, outcomes, and pain management. Searches of primary electronic databases including PubMed, Embase, PsycINFO, and CINAHL were performed on February 26, 2020, restricting the publication date from database inception to December 31, 2019.
The search strategy, conducted in English, covered search term combinations of “chronic pain” and “young adults.” A total of 6,612 records were considered—3,141 after removing duplicates. These records were screened by title and abstract; 871 through full- text screening. Of these, 78 articles covered the topic of emerging adults with chronic pain. Collectively, results indicated that between 5% and 30% of emerging adults experience chronic pain, depending on the sample and exact chronic pain definition. The most consistent associated factors were female sex, familial chronic pain, and previous experiences of chronic pain in childhood.
Anxiety, depression, and sleep issues appeared associated both before and after the onset of chronic pain. Outcomes of pain included interruptions to study and work, poorer physical functioning, and pain-related interference to socializing. We observed that few pain treatments have been tested specifically in this cohort. A greater ongoing focus on chronic pain in emerging adults is required to improve long-lasting outcomes.