Tuesday 20 August 2019

Chronic pain sufferers to use pictures to describe their symptoms

Ivan Yates launches a national campaign aiming to raise awareness of back pain. Photo: Robbie Reynolds
Ivan Yates launches a national campaign aiming to raise awareness of back pain. Photo: Robbie Reynolds

Meadhbh McGrath and Jason Kennedy

A new campaign seeks to help chronic pain sufferers describe their pain by offering pictures to represent symptoms like “a burning fire under the skin” or “sharp needles travelling through the back”.

Over half of Irish sufferers of chronic pain feel frustrated when trying to communicate their pain to a doctor, according to a survey conducted on behalf of Grünenthal Pharma Ltd.

Some 26pc of patients said they delay discussions with their doctor because they struggle to describe their symptoms.

“Mypainfeelslike...” aims to facilitate better communication between patients and healthcare professionals by offering a questionnaire and a set of images that can be referred to when discussing pain.

Together with artist David Schwen, they have developed pictures reflecting different forms of pain including icy cold, hot iron, barbed wire or pins and needles.

Chronic pain is defined as any pain or discomfort that persists for more than three months, and may be caused by a condition such as arthritis or fibromyalgia, an isolated event (e.g. an injury or infection), or a non-traceable occurrence.


There are an estimated 1.65m people in Ireland suffering with pain, with 21pc reporting living with pain for 10 years or more.

The survey also examined the impact of chronic pain of people’s ability to exercise, socialise and work.

Some 73pc of respondents said their pain had a negative impact on their ability to exercise, 45pc said it affected their social life, and nearly half reported missing up to a week of work in the last year due to their pain.

"Persistent pain is now considered to be a disease entity in its own right,” Dr Paul Murphy, pain consultant at St Vincent’s Hospital, Dublin, said of the new campaign.

“It is associated with a range of changes in nerve function, mood, cognition and social function. Early assessment is essential in devising a strategy to help chronic pain sufferers.”

John Lindsay, chairperson of Chronic Pain Ireland, added: “Living with chronic or nerve pain affects people’s well-being, their ability to be independent, their productivity and relationships, which can lead to feelings of depression.

“The ‘Mypainfeelslike’ campaign will help raise awareness of the impact of chronic pain and give people living with this disease the tools to re-evaluate their pain management plans.”

The campaign was launched by broadcaster Ivan Yates, who suffers from chronic back pain.

“My lower back pain started in 2003 while driving around the country. The pain started off as localised, a kind of stabbing feeling in my lower back. Soon it spread down my leg, which led to me using crutches as I was unable to walk,” he said.

“I was in bad way and it kept deteriorating over the years. In 2011 I underwent spinal fusion surgery, unfortunately this hasn’t worked as I still have pain every day.

“But you learn to live with it. Sitting is a big aggravator so I have no shame in standing, kneeling or lying on the floor while on the radio, at events or wherever – it has to be done!”

The “Mypainfeelslike...” campaign is a collaboration between Chronic Pain Ireland and Grünenthal, and supported by Multiple Sclerosis Ireland and the Parkinson’s Association of Ireland.

The images will be displayed around Dublin and in GP surgeries across the country.

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