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Patients resigned to a life of pain, new study shows

10 September 2009

More than 7.8million UK patients suffer from chronic pain, yet new research reveals pain treatment isn’t working for 95% of them.

The results of the study show that more than half of patients’ pain levels failed to improve over the course of a year, for 19% of patients, their pain became even worse. Despite these high numbers, the research also shows that 64% of patients believe that they are taking the most appropriate medication and more than half are resigned to thinking that everything is being done to help them.

The results have come from PainSTORY, the first in-depth study of its kind, exploring and tracking the experiences of people suffering from moderate to severe, non-malignant chronic pain. The study followed patients for a year in the UK and 12 other European countries. The people suffer from a variety of illnesses including back pain, osteoporosis and osteoarthritis.

The PainSTORY study was prepared by IPSOS MORI in association with, and sponsored by a restricted educational grant from, Munidpharma International Limited. It was announced today at the European Federation of Chapters of the International Association for the Study of Pain (EFIC) Congress, Lisbon (10 September 2009).

Ann Taylor, Senior Lecturer in Pain Research and Education at Cardiff University's School of Medicine, who sat on the PainSTORY advisory board, said: "PainSTORY allows us to gain insight and adds to the growing body of evidence that is taking more of a qualitative perspective in asking people to tell us what it is to have pain as a chronic or lifelong condition."

"As can be seen in PainSTORY, chronic pain covers a wide range of painful conditions and affects individuals physically, psychologically and socially."

The PainSTORY research has revealed the devastating impact of chronic pain, with almost two-thirds of people saying they’d spend all their money on a treatment if it worked. Over a quarter of patients have felt that their pain is so bad they want to die and almost two-thirds can’t remember what it is like to live without pain. Across the year, 44% of patients report feeling alone in tackling their pain and two thirds of patients feel anxious or depressed as a result of their pain.

This study examined in detail the major impact of chronic pain on daily activities with almost a third of patients having problems with washing and dressing themselves and 65% worrying that they will have to stop work completely. There is also a hidden effect on family life - over the year there has been an increase in the number of people who are having difficulties looking after their children (rising from 47% to 53%). Chronic pain also has an impact on people’s sex lives, 55% of patients reported that having sex was strongly affected by pain.

The research highlights a number of reasons for ongoing suffering. Many patients may not be receiving the appropriate medication. Despite 95% of patients suffering from moderate-to-severe chronic pain despite one year of treatment, only 12% were given strong prescription medication whilst 30% had to resort to over-the-counter drugs. Even when they were given prescription drugs, almost half reported side effects, the most common being constipation. Patients also went less frequently to their doctor, over the year the number dropped from 83% to 70%.

The results of the study support the Chief Medical Officer’s latest annual report, in which Sir Liam Donaldson which revealed that only a third of chronic pain sufferers ever recover. Further, back pain alone costs the UK economy an estimated £12.3 billion a year. Sir Liam called for "a major initiative to widen access to high quality services."

About the survey

PainSTORY (Pain Study Tracking Ongoing Responses for a Year) is the first study of its kind to track patients with chronic pain over one year, providing in depth insight into how pain impacts the daily lives of patients and the management of pain in 13 European countries.

The PainSTORY survey was conducted by an independent research company, Ipsos MORI, in collaboration with the following independent third parties:

§ European Federation of IASP Chapters

§ World Institute of Pain

§ OPEN Minds

The survey was sponsored by a restricted educational grant from, and prepared in association with, Mundipharma International Limited.


294 patients suffering from non-malignant (osteoarthritis, back pain / lower back pain, osteoporosis, neuropathic pain, mixed pain, other long term pain), chronic pain (i.e. lasting for more than three months) rating >5-10 on a pain scale at screening stage (where 0 = no pain and 10 = the worst pain imaginable) completed the survey. Respondents were studied for 12 months with the research being carried out in 13 countries across Europe: United Kingdom, France, Germany, Switzerland, Italy, Spain, Ireland, Belgium, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Netherlands and Norway by an independent research company, Ipsos MORI.

The study consisted of four waves of qualitative interviews between April 2008 and May 2009. Interim engagement activities such as diaries and ‘life books’ were sent to patients between the four waves to provide additional insight. Comparisons between baseline data and subsequent wave results showed how the impact of pain and pain management changes over the course of a year.

Stephen Rouse,

Public Relations Office,

Cardiff University

02920 875596


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