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Chronic pain is pain that persists beyond the normal time of healing, or occurs in diseases in which healing does not take place.

Chronic pain can occur when no obvious cause can be found, and is thought to be due to changes in the nervous system. It can affect any part of the body and people of any age including children. The Department of Health recognises chronic pain as a long-term condition in its own right, and as a component of other long-term conditions.

Facts and Figures

  • The Departments of Health for England and Scotland recognise chronic pain as a long-term condition in its own right, and as a component of other long-term conditions.
  • Approximately 8 million adults report chronic pain that is moderate to severely disabling*. From the same report, it is estimated that 43% of adults (just under 28 million people) currently live with a degree of chronic pain in the United Kingdom. The prevalence in older age groups is even higher, with up to 62% of those aged 75 and over reporting chronic pain symptoms.
  • A person living with pain may have a very poor quality of life - much worse than for other conditions, and as bad as significant neurological diseases such as Parkinson's.
  • Low back pain is ranked highest out of 291 conditions studied by the Global Burden of Disease study, ranking first for years lost due to disability worldwide. In fact four of the top 12 disabling conditions globally are persistent pain conditions (low-back and neck pain, migraine, arthritis, other musculoskeletal conditions).
  • 41% of people who attend pain clinics have reported that their pain has prevented them from working, and 13% have had to reduce their hours.
  • Chronic pain may affect up to 30% of young adults of working age (18-39-year-olds).
  • 66% of people attending A&E departments seeking help for pain, had made more than three visits to a healthcare professional in the preceding six months.
  • The 2008 Chief Medical Officer's report states that 25% of pain sufferers lose their jobs, whle 16% of sufferers feel their chronic pain is so bad that they sometimes want to die.
  • Men and women in the lowest income households are more likely to report chronic pain (42%), compared to those in the highest quintile (27%).
  • Severe chronic pain is associated with increased risk of mortality, independent of socio-demographic factors.
  • Attending specialist pain services improves quality of life (in total, 56% of providers reported post-treatment improvement in EQ5D-3L score, and 76% reported improvement specifically in pain-related quality of life).

For full references of the above, please see UK Pain Messages, which can be downloaded using the link on the right hand side of this page.

Current Issues

  • Recent reports have identified pain services as ‘variable and patchy.’
  • When poorly managed, conditions associated with pain can have a seriously debilitating impact on the quality of life of individuals and their families.
  • The failure to implement an effective prevention and treatment strategy for chronic pain not only imposes an unnecessary burden on patients, but it also also wastes valuable healthcare resources.
  • There has been some concern expressed recently about the potential risk of addiction in patients taking opiods to manage thier chronic pain.

Baroness Fritchie of Gloucester, President of the Chronic Pain Policy Coalition, says:

"The negative impact that chronic pain is having upon individual people, families, the NHS, the Exchequer and the economy is enormous and alarming, which is why I find the prospect of establishing this Coalition so exciting.

'Patient-led' health services, the effective management of chronic conditions and the need to create healthier workplaces are key priorities for the Department of Health. We need to make sure that prevention and management of Chronic Pain is considered to be a central part of this.

Here we have an opportunity to create a developmental, proactive and patient-focussed Coalition that will solve a problem that cannot be tackled without joined-up thinking. The contribution of patients, professionals and parliamentarians in this Coalition is essential".

Useful links

Department of Health

The Department of Health provides up to date information on Government health policy in England and Wales, including Government strategy and developments in healthcare provision and funding. 

Department for Work and Pensions

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) is responsible for welfare, pensions and child maintenance policy. Within the DWP, The Minister of State for Disabled People, Health and Work is now Penny Mordaunt MP.

British Pain Society 

The British Pain Society is the largest multidisciplinary professional organisation in the field of pain within the UK. 

Faculty of Pain Medicine 

The Faculty of Pain Medicine is the professional body responsible for the training, assessment, practice and continuing professional development of specialist medical practitioners working in the field of pain management in the UK. 

International Association for the Study of Pain (IASP) 

Founded in 1973, IASP is a non-profit professional organisation dedicated to furthering research on pain and improving the care of patients with pain. 

The National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE)

NICE assesses and recommends individual treatments for patients, including technologies, medicines, medical devices, diagnostic techniques, and procedures for use in the NHS in England. 

Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA)

The MHRA regulates medicines and medical products in UK - including pain treatments.