The MBF Foundation's study 'The High Price of Pain: The Economic Impact of Persistent Pain in Australia' found that 3.2 million people were living with pain, and more women than men are affected.
Conducted by Access Economics in collaboration with the University of Sydney Pain Management Research Institute, the study found that the cost incurred by people suffering from persistent pain includes financial costs as well as loss of healthy life.
The study recommends treating pain as a health priority with a co-ordinated national response.
Its authors say that the findings will be used to identify the best ways to ease suffering; save healthcare dollars and help patients maintain productive lives.
Dr Christine Bennett, MBF chief medical officer and chair of the MBF Foundation Steering Committee, believes that establishing the economic cost of pain to Australia was a very significant development for healthcare strategy.
"The impact and cost of persistent pain is so widespread that a national approach is needed to address this major health issue and its hidden health burden. This is vital because pain is involved across a number of existing National Health Priority Areas such as cardiovascular disease, cancer, musculoskeletal disease and diabetes," Dr Bennett said.
"The study shows that the bottom line of chronic pain is huge both in human terms and its economic impact. Australians suffering from persistent pain could benefit from approaches that can help them manage or minimise their pain to improve their lives and the health system," Dr Bennett added.
The researchers believe that their findings should prompt more action to prevent pain from going under-treated or untreated at all so that its economic cost can be reduced.
"It is now possible to manage persistent pain in 70-80 per cent of patients yet fewer than 10 per cent actually obtain pain relief," said lead researchers Professor Michael Cousins.
"Providing resources to deliver proper pain treatment has the potential to save Federal and State Governments enormous amounts of public funds. At least 50 per cent of patients who have access to effective treatment can return to a reasonable lifestyle, offering savings on hospital and doctor visits, x-rays, surgery and medications, not to mention improved productivity," Prof. Cousins added.
Dr Bennett said the landmark study would put pain on the health agenda.