The PMRI was established in 1990 when Professor Michael Cousins was appointed to a Chair of Anaesthesia and Pain Management at the University of Sydney, and as Head of the Department of Anaesthesia and Pain Management at Royal North Shore Hospital (RNSH). Professor Cousins had previously developed a large clinical and research focus in the field of Pain Medicine at Flinders Medical Centre in Adelaide.
At RNSH, beginning in 1990, it was necessary to develop new facilities for basic and clinical research and to recruit a wide range of new staff. In 2003 the PMRI formalised its involvement in the Kolling Institute, Royal North Shore Hospital by becoming a Division of the Kolling Institute.
Beginning in 1996 a residential Diploma and Masters degree course in Pain Management was offered by PMRI with degrees awarded by the University of Sydney.
In 1999 this program evolved into a web based interactive international distance educational program. In 2005 a collaborative agreement was developed with the University of Edinburgh and the University of California permitting enrolment of students at those sites, and greatly enhancing the size of the educational faculty. In 2008 the University of Santo Tomas in the Philippines joined the consortium, offering the program to medical graduates in the East Asia region. Currently, the University of Edinburgh and the University of Santo Tomas remain with the collaboration.
In 2004 the PMRI Educational Program received an international award as an "Exemplary Educational Program".
The scope of the pain research program of PMRI has developed steadily, particularly over the last seven years. In 1998 the Centre gained one of only eight National Health & Medical Research Council (NHMRC) of Australia awards as a "Centre of Clinical Excellence in Hospital Based Research".
In 2004, PMRI received research infrastructure funding from the NSW State Government in the top bracket of funding, as a Division of the Kolling Institute of Medical Research.
In 2005 PMRI, in collaboration with the University of Queensland (Australia), University College London (UK) and Nagasaki University (Japan) was a recipient of an NHMRC Program Grant (2005-2009). Also in 2005 PMRI was the top level funded institution for a Program Grant from the NSW Health to investigate ‘Mechanisms and Treatment of Pain Associated with Spinal Cord Injury” (2005–2008)
PMRI works in close collaboration with a large clinical entity, "The Pain Management & Research Centre" (PMRC). PMRC conducts the clinical treatment programs in acute pain, cancer pain and chronic non-cancer pain. This provides access for applied research projects and clinical research.
PMRC comprises a group of approx 40 multidisciplinary health care practitioners who evaluate all aspects of the multifaceted nature of each patient’s pain and recommend treatment options based upon a multidisciplinary approach. PMRC currently provides approx 40,000 episodes of patient care per annum.
Each year up to four internationally funded Fellows spend a year of training with PMRC. To date Fellows have been drawn from more than 20 countries.