Pain: the invisible illness

En person som massera sin axel

A large proportion of the population today suffers from chronic pain. Yet we still do not know what causes long-term pain or why some individuals are affected and others are not. Moreover, current methods of treatment are often inadequate or have troublesome side-effects. We need deeper knowledge of the underlying mechanisms of pain to be able to offer pain sufferers adequate treatment.

Chronic pain is a global public health challenge that has a huge negative impact on those affected and on society. Research indicates that as many as 65 per cent of the Swedish population suffers from long-term pain. It is also one of the heaviest burdens on the Swedish social insurance and healthcare systems.

Why does chronic pain arise? Who is affected? How does the brain work when we are in pain? Is pain a curable condition? Is it possible to lead an active life with chronic pain? Pain poses many questions and researchers are searching for answers. The body uses pain as a warning signal, but in the case of chronic pain, the underlying causes are often unknown. Consequently, there is a risk of pain becoming an invisible health problem.

With current methods, pain is treatable but not curable. Care for pain needs to be modernised – in its organisation and contents, and by introducing new forms of treatment.

A new research programme at Uppsala University – U-PAIN– is taking on this challenge. With the ambition of building up a multidisciplinary research environment with strong links between research and care, the researchers, taking a long-term approach, will together address challenging questions with innovative approaches. The support of modern information and communications technology makes completely new forms of treatment possible, along with new means of data collection via machine learning and artificial intelligence. This also paves the way for studying individual variations – a level of knowledge that is needed to move pain research forward and to be able to offer pain sufferers personalised treatment. The collaboration between U-PAIN and Uppsala University Hospital is also crucial to facilitate the effective transfer of new research findings to clinical care, for the benefit of chronic pain sufferers.

“Chronic pain affects most people at some time or another, yet it remains an invisible illness. Modern information and communications technology gives us unprecedented opportunities to understand who is affected by chronic pain and how their pain can be relieved or even cured.”
Pernilla Åsenlöf, Professor of Physiotherapy