World Day Against Pain: Suffer chronic pain? You are not alone

About 13 per cent of Irish population afflicted by pain every day, most of it in lower back area


We have all been physically hurt at some point in our lives but some people live with chronic pain every single day.

October 1st is World Day Against Pain - an event created to raise awareness and to enlighten people on how to relate to those who suffer endlessly.

Founded by the ISAL Foundation and Research Institute in Italy, 100 cities worldwide are taking part in the event to support and highlight the reality of living with pain.

While estimates vary, currently about 13 per cent of the Irish population suffer with chronic pain on a daily basis - most of it in the lower back region.

“Living with persistent pain can severely impact someone’s life,” says Orla Spencer, clinical psychologist at Tallaght Hospital in Dublin. “It is an invisible illness that compromises both quality of life and emotional health and many people can feel isolated and think that others do not understand the impact it has on their life.”

Shining a spotlight on pain, is collaboration between Chronic Pain Ireland and Grünenthal Pharma Ltd and supported by Multiple Sclerosis Ireland and Parkinson’s Association of Ireland.

The objective of the national campaign is to raise the profile of this unseen condition and an online questionnaire aims to help patients to communicate their symptoms to health professionals. It also hopes to encourage the general public to be more supportive of those who are suffering with constant pain.

While most people don’t intentionally set out to say hurtful or inappropriate things, their well-meaning wishes can have the opposite effect and recent research from the campaign found that 89 per cent of people who are living with chronic pain avoid discussing it with others as they don’t always get positive feedback.

According to a European survey, about 30 per cent of people living with chronic pain feel that no one believes how bad their symptoms are. And one in four feel that colleagues, employers and doctors are unsympathetic to their plight or do not think it is a problem.

In order to encourage sufferers to talk openly, the campaign has compiled a list of 10 things not to say to someone with chronic pain so they feel empowered to talk and are encouraged to seek help from their doctor:

1. But you look so well

2. Do you still have pain?

3. You depend too much on your medication

4. It’s all in your head

5. Have you seen a psychiatrist?

6. It’s just a matter of time

7. You should learn to live with it

8. You should try and get out more

9. You should feel better by now

10. Everyone has pain

“The stigma of chronic pain is one of the most difficult aspects of living with it,” says John Lindsay, chairman of Chronic Pain Ireland. “Our members have reported these types of comments for a long time and while they know people are just trying to help, it often has the opposite effect and can make them feel like they are being judged.”

But while the general public needs to become aware of how to support someone with chronic pain, those affected should also learn to live with their condition, according to sufferer Eileen Hopkins, who suffers from myofascial pain syndrome in various parts of her back.

“There’s only so much others can do so you have to do a lot for yourself to help manage the pain,” says the 52-year-old. “I take medication but also looked at other ways of managing my condition and discovering what triggers the pain. I know stress is a big factor so I practice mindfulness, exercise four times a week and last year I trained as a life coach which helps to focus my mind away from the pain.

“Developing coping mechanisms and learning not to get worked up when the pain gets bad has helped me to manage it.”