About pain - Who suffers from pain

Every single day, thousands of Australians wake to debilitating chronic pain – month after month, year after year. Many find themselves locked into a cycle of pills, depression and bed rest.

PMRI scientists and clinicians are world leaders in the area of pain management who are dedicated to discovering new treatments for persistent pain.

How does pain affect individuals and the community?

An estimated 1 in 5 Australians suffer persistent pain – pain that continues for more than 3 months. People from all walks of life can suffer from persistent pain including children and the elderly. Pain has obvious human costs to patients, families, and communities.

There are also huge costs to the economy – 36.5 million lost workdays each year are attributed to people suffering from persistent pain. The total cost of lost workdays, health care, and associated costs add up to over $34 billion per year.

This makes persistent pain one of the nation’s most costly healthcare problems.

Pain can kill

Acute pain can affect the heart, lungs, and other key body systems which can be life threatening. Unfortunately patients who continue to suffer severe pain contemplate or actually commit suicide.

The effective treatment of cancer pain can actually prolong life by improving immune system function.

Different types of severe pain

  • Acute pain
    Usually, but not always, of short duration eg. after surgery, injury, burns or other short-term episodes. PMRI research aims to improve the treatment of acute pain to prevent life threatening risks, and is developing methods to detect those at risk of progressing from acute pain to severe persistent pain.
  • Severe persistent pain
    Pain becomes persistent when it lasts for more than three months, despite attempts to diagnose and treat an underlying cause. There are over 300 conditions that may lead to persistent pain, such as "shingles", amputation, severe burns, spinal cord injury, low back or neck injury, surgery of various types, hernia repairs and many other causes
  • Cancer pain
    Many different problems in patients with cancer can cause severe pain. Some cancer pain is acute and some is persistent. There have been improvements in the treatment of cancer pain, however too many adults and children continue to suffer severe unrelieved cancer pain, especially if nerve damage has occurred.

Persistent pain as a disease

When pain is brief or short-term (acute pain), it acts as a warning for the body to seek help. However, when pain never goes away, becomes severe and persists month after month despite any causes being treated or excluded, it serves no useful purpose.

Evidence from the PMRI and other international groups such as Harvard University, shows that left unrelieved, this type of pain can go on to cause severe physical and psychological problems. In these cases, pain itself becomes the problem and is called a disease. This is the major theme of PMRI’s basic and clinical research program.