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Stephen  Bevan

Chronic pain in Europe

Authors: Stephen Bevan Stephen Bevan

01 June 2012

Earlier this week I spoke at the Societal Impact of Pain conference in Copenhagen, under the auspices of the Danish Presidency of the EU. This is a major event bringing together clinicians, patient organisations and researchers who are working on issues arising from the growing burden of chronic pain in Europe’s population.

As you may expect, chronic pain affects many millions of people, including those at work, those in retirement and those at the end of their lives. The conference had fascinating presentations on how to detect pain among people with dementia, the challenges of palliative and end of life care and pain among people with cancer. One of the big debates was about whether Chronic Pain should be included as a disease in its own right in the International Classification of Diseases (ICD) or whether it is enough to see pain as a symptom. From the work that we have been conducting on musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs), my non-clinical perspective is that pain is a symptom which rarely gets the attention it deserves by clinicians or employers but I struggle with the idea that it is a disease in its own right (this view put me in a minority at the conference).

Luckily, I was speaking about something I do know about – the impact of back pain on sickness absence from work. You can read my paper here. The costs of back pain in the EU are very considerable and have been estimated to exceed €12billion each year. Some 80% of health care costs are generated by the 10% of those with chronic back pain and disability. My presentation argued for earlier intervention, preventative measures in workplaces and more Good Work.

We know that, with an ageing workforce, a higher proportion of the EUs working age population will have at least one long-term or chronic condition such as back pain in the future. I concluded that, unless we embed enlightened, empowering and evidence-based interventions in to clinical and workplace practice, and prioritise work as a clinical outcome, the burden of chronic pain in our workforce will become a barrier to productivity growth and a driver of wasteful social exclusion at a time when we least need it.


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