Clinical Features

Waking up to Pain

Chronic Pain Ireland launches ‘Waking up to Pain’ campaign for Pain Awareness Month

Written by Martina Phelan, Chair, Chronic Pain Ireland

The World Health Assembly (WHA), a subsection of the World Health Organization (WHO), has declared September as Pain Awareness Month. Throughout the month of September, many organisations around the globe contribute and raise awareness of chronic pain. Chronic Pain Ireland is supporting the 2023 global campaign with the theme ‘Waking up to pain’.

The theme ‘Waking Up to Pain’ expresses the reality for up to 1 in 3 individuals in Ireland of waking up to pain each morning. Some people feel pain throughout the day, every day. Chronic Pain Ireland wants people in Ireland to wake up to the facts of chronic pain, which can affect anyone over their lifetime.

  • Waking up to the prevalence of pain: The University of Galway Prevalence, Impact and Cost of Chronic Pain (PRIME) study estimates up to 1 in 3 adults in Ireland experience chronic pain.
  • Waking up to the economic cost: The societal cost of chronic pain is significant in terms of healthcare costs and lost productivity. The Irish Pain Society estimates that chronic pain costs the Irish economy around ¤4.7 billion per year, more than 2.5% of GDP.
  • Waking up to the personal cost: According to The Irish Pain Society, 42% of people living with chronic pain think others doubt the existence of their pain even though 21% said their pain was so intense they wanted to die.
  • Waking up to the inadequacy of services: According to figures released by the 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.

Chronic pain, unlike acute pain, is pain that persists beyond the normal time of healing and this is generally accepted as pain that lasts longer than three months. The International Association for the Study of Pain (IASP) redefined pain in 2020 as “An unpleasant sensory and emotional experience associated with, or resembling that associated with, actual or potential tissue damage”. This expanded definition encompasses pain that arises in the absence of any evidence of tissue damage or disease.

Chronic primary pain represents chronic pain as a disease in itself. Chronic primary pain is characterised by significant functional disability or emotional distress that is not better accounted for by another diagnosis. This may include chronic widespread pain, chronic primary musculoskeletal pain (previously termed “non specific”), as well as primary headaches and conditions such as chronic pelvic pain and irritable bowel syndrome. They are recognised as a group of chronic pain syndromes for the first time in the International Classification of Diseases 11th Revision – the global standard for diagnostic health information (ICD-11).

Chronic secondary pain is chronic pain where the pain is a symptom of an underlying condition. Chronic secondary pain is organised into the following six categories:

1. Chronic cancer-related pain is chronic pain that is due to cancer or its treatment, such as chemotherapy. This type of pain was represented for the first time in ICD-11.

2. Chronic postsurgical or posttraumatic pain is chronic pain that develops or increases in intensity after a tissue trauma (surgical or accidental) and persists beyond three months. It is also part of the ICD for the first time.

3. Chronic secondary musculoskeletal pain is chronic pain in bones, joint and tendons arising from an underlying disease classified elsewhere. It can be due to persistent inflammation associated with structural changes or caused by altered biomechanical function due to diseases of the nervous system.

4. Chronic secondary visceral pain is chronic pain secondary to an underlying condition originating from internal organs of the head or neck region or of the thoracic, abdominal or pelvic regions. It can be caused by persistent inflammation, vascular mechanisms or mechanical factors.

5. Chronic neuropathic pain is chronic pain caused by a lesion or disease of the somatosensory nervous system. This category includes peripheral and central neuropathic pain. This type of pain is also newly represented in ICD-11.

6. Chronic secondary headache or orofacial pain contains the chronic forms of symptomatic headaches – those termed primary headaches in the International Classification of Headache Disorders 3rd edition (ICHD-3) are part of chronic primary pain – and follows closely the ICHD3 classification. Chronic secondary orofacial pain, such as chronic dental pain, supplements this section of ICD-11.

What causes chronic pain? There are many causes of chronic pain such as an illness or injury where you recover, but pain persists. There may be an ongoing cause of pain, for example arthritis or cancer. Many people suffer chronic pain in the absence of any past injury or evidence of illness.

How is chronic pain treated?

Chronic pain impacts on every aspect of a person’s life. A multidisciplinary approach to pain management is often required, providing interventions that help manage the pain. Public pain management programmes are available in some hospitals.

How can Chronic Pain Ireland help?

Chronic Pain Ireland (CPI) is the national charity providing information, education and support services to people living with chronic pain, their families, friends, caregivers and other interested parties. We advocate on their behalf and work closely with all stakeholders.

Pain Awareness Month (PAM) Activities

Chronic Pain Ireland are supporting our members during Pain Awareness Month by providing:

  • A 5-week self-management course based on the biopsychosocial model of pain.
  • Two 7-week Living Well with Chronic Pain programmes for members in collaboration with The Health Service Executive (HSE).
  • A 7-week Lifestyle Education Awareness Programme (LEAP) programme specifically for those living with fibromyalgia.
  • A facilitated chronic pain and mental health support group in partnership with Turn2Me.

Chronic Pain Ireland will host informative talks throughout September and have distributed information leaflets on chronic pain to pain teams and social prescribers across the country.

To learn more about our activities for Pain Awareness Month, visit

References available on request

Read our Clinical Features

Read HPN September

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