Chair of Chronic Pain Ireland, Martina Phelan. Photos: Paul Sharp

Let’s talk about chronic pain

With Pain Awareness Month upon us, an organisation supporting people living with chronic pain is celebrating its 30th anniversary with a series of virtual events.

This month, Chronic Pain Ireland (CPI) will host a programme of events designed to teach chronic pain sufferers the tools, techniques and coping strategies necessary for maintaining a good quality of life.

The 7 week Living Well with Chronic Pain self-management programme, delivered in conjunction with the HSE, is free to take part in and is suitable for all ages. CPI and the HSE are also working together to offer specific programmes for those aged 18-30.

Top university researchers who engage with CPI through its patient and public involvement (PPI) partnerships will also be on hand to provide insights on their studies into chronic pain.

Also, part of CPI’s 30 year milestone celebrations is the launch of the Hidden Disabilities Sunflower initiative to highlight the plight of those living with chronic pain and non-visible disabilities. The initiative kicked off on 1 September and is giving all CPI members Sunflower lanyards which can be worn in public to discreetly indicate to others that the wearer has a hidden disability and may require additional support.

Chronic pain is classified as pain that persists beyond the time of healing, typically around three months. While many people suffer chronic pain due to injury or illness, others can experience pain in the absence of any obvious cause.

According to figures released by Irish Pain Society, Ireland has just 27 dedicated pain consultants operating across the public system, meaning that 41% of patients are currently waiting more than 12 months for their first appointment with a chronic pain specialist, while 18% are waiting the same length of time for their first treatment.

The Irish Pain Society’s figures estimate that chronic pain costs the Irish economy around €4.7billion per year, more than 2.5% of GDP. Among those with chronic pain, 29% cannot work because of their condition, while 42% said they think others doubt the existence of their pain. Some 21% said their pain was so intense that they wanted to die. Chair of CPI, Martina Phelan said everyone who suffers from chronic pain is on their own unique journey “It can be shaped by injury, experiences, stigma, suppressed emotions and past traumatic events. Pain Awareness Month provides a perfect opportunity to highlight the life-changing effects of chronic pain and the action that people can take to manage it,” said Ms Phelan.

She continued: “The theme of this year’s Pain Awareness Month is ‘Inspiring Pain Freedom’, which is about finding something that can help people along the path to living without pain. That’s the core of CPI’s mission.

“We’re also delighted to be launching our Hidden Disabilities Sunflower initiative to create greater awareness of chronic pain. With the sunflower lanyards, we want to make chronic pain visible and encourage conversation, empathy and understanding of the challenges faced by those living with a non-visible disability.”

Also commenting was Hidden Disabilities Sunflower Regional Director for Ireland, Tristan Casson-Rennie, who said that living with chronic pain can be immensely difficult, and by choosing to wear the sunflower, it lets people know that the wearer has an invisible disability and may need more time, kindness and understanding. “Working together with a joint aim to increase awareness of non-visible disabilities helps us reach a wider audience at the same time as supporting members,” he said. September was declared as Pain Awareness Month the World Health Assembly (WHA) – a subsection of the World Health Organisation (WHO).