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Pain

An underfunded area that needs urgent attention

Right now, chronic pain affects between 18.4 million and 28 million people across the UK.

That's more than a third of the population living in pain for more than three months.

What is pain?

Pain is a signal in your body that there may be something wrong. It can be a physical or emotional sensation, and it can occur to varying degrees of severity and last for varying lengths of time.

Pain signals travel to our brain through nerve fibres and the spinal cord via chemicals called neurotransmitters.

As it is invisible, it's up to the person experiencing the pain to interpret and describe it.

Painkillers, drugs, and other treatments can help to alleviate pain symptoms.


Types of pain

Health professionals describe pain using different terms:

  • Acute pain (or short-term pain) comes on suddenly, caused by something specific like surgery or an injury.
  • Chronic pain (or long-term pain) lasts more than three months – conditions like arthritis, fibromyalgia, and Parkinson’s are examples of chronic pain.
  • Intermittent pain is pain that comes and goes - toothache or migraines can be examples of this.

What causes pain?

The causes of pain can be obvious, for example, a burn, a sprained ankle, or a child experiencing teething.

Sometimes, it can be more difficult to decipher what is causing pain. This is because causes can be invisible, for example, a slipped disc or a stomach virus.

It can also be a result of a problem in the body's nervous system itself; the nervous system can misinterpret signals, causing pain to be experienced. This is often the cause of chronic pain.

How does pain impact people's lives?

Though it is not long-lasting, acute pain can have a detrimental effect on people's quality of life, sometimes preventing them from working or participating in social activities, affecting sleep, and causing emotional distress and anxiety.

In babies and young children, it is more difficult to estimate the severity of pain experienced, and there is evidence that pain during childhood can contribute to the way individuals experience pain later in life.


Chronic pain can have a devastating impact on many aspects of people's everyday lives, affecting mobility, appetite, sleep, and mood for extended periods. It can also lead to mental health issues like anxiety and depression.

Over 30 per cent of the world’s population is affected by chronic pain, including between 18.4 million and 28 million people across the UK alone.

Women are also more than twice as likely to experience chronic pain than men.

Chronic pain carries a significant societal and economic burden, putting extra strain on healthcare systems and contributing to unemployment levels. It’s estimated that it costs the UK economy billions of pounds every year. Back pain alone costs the UK £10 billion annually.

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A gap in research

Pain is often difficult to treat, and we don’t yet know why certain people are more vulnerable. There is a pressing need to understand it more fully.

Long-term under-investment in pain research has led to this gap in understanding and, subsequently, to a lack of effective treatment options for patients.

Most significantly, treatment currently falls behind in anticipatory care of pain (preventative measures), in the understanding of pain in children and adolescents, in managing comorbidities (when a pain patient has more than one health condition), and in wider public health strategies dealing with pain.

These are some of the areas we are supporting with continued investment in pain research.

£2.9 million

invested in life-changing pain research, thanks to our supporters

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Funding is needed for new vital research into this area

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