causes of pain
© Clearvista |

Stephen Simpson, Director of Research at Versus Arthritis, charts arthritis and related conditions, the biggest causes of pain in the UK today

Millions of people in the UK live in pain every day. Arthritis and related conditions are the biggest causes of that pain.

In fact, more than half of the 10 million people with arthritis say they experience pain every single day, and eight out of ten say they experience it most days. (1) It’s not short-term or one-off bursts but persistent pain. It can fluctuate but for most but it never truly goes away.

Access to health services

During the COVID-19 pandemic, many people with arthritis will be unable to access essential services to manage their pain such as physiotherapy or hydrotherapy. The impact of joint replacement operations cancelled or postponed will mean more people with arthritis living in debilitating pain. Versus Arthritis is supporting people with arthritis during these challenging times by standing with them and working for them so they are not alone.

Persistent pain

The persistent pain of arthritis makes the simplest of movements exhausting and excruciating. Imagine not being able to stand, walk, hug or hold without pain. Imagine not being able to work. To be independent. Imagine not being able to remember what it’s like to not be in pain.

The pain itself and the fear of making it worse can lead to isolation and depression. In fact, depression is four times more common among people in persistent pain compared to those without pain. (2)

Put simply, pain erodes life.

Ken Brown is 61 and has been living with the pain of osteoarthritis for most of his adult life. He says: “My experience of the pain from arthritis is the feeling you get the day after a very intense workout at the gym. The fatigue is so hard to describe, but the worst feeling of all is the grinding bone pain as if someone has drained the energy out of you. The realisation that you can’t do what you used to is hard to come to terms with – it’s difficult to even go out to the shops sometimes.

“Pain is not something that people can see and is therefore often difficult for others to comprehend. It is a hidden disability.”

Cost to the NHS

But it has more than just a personal impact. The impact of musculoskeletal pain on our health service is huge. It is estimated that arthritis-related pain alone costs the health service £5 billion every year in England (3) and accounts for one in eight of all GP appointments. (4)

Our society today creates an environment where people in pain are too often dismissed or not taken seriously. Everyday phrases like “no pain, no gain”, the glorification of your “pain threshold” or ability to “grin and bear it”, create a culture that exacerbates silently suffering with pain. It prevents people from speaking openly and honestly about how they are feeling, something which is an integral part of effective pain management for millions of people.


There’s also been insufficient progress on treatment. The options patients are offered today haven’t moved on significantly in a few decades. For many, they are limited to drugs rather than a care plan that includes effective treatments like physiotherapy, exercise and talking therapies.

At Versus Arthritis, we believe it’s time for change. The pain associated with arthritis should not be tolerated in society, and people with the condition should not have to live silently with its impact.

Research funding

Research into pain is underfunded in the UK and over the past five years, we have begun to invest significantly to redress this and help us understand the complex causes and treatments for the pain of arthritis.

Along with the direct funding we provide ourselves, we have been working in partnership with other funders to influence their research spend and to convince them to invest in pain research. We are leading a co-ordinated national approach to pain research that aims to accelerate our understanding of persistent pain, while developing and testing new ideas, solutions and treatments that can be developed and scaled for the greatest possible impact on people living with persistent pain.

For the first time, we brought together international health and research experts and people with arthritis, to identify and set out the challenges that must be tackled across research and public health to improve the quality of life for people living with persistent pain.

Advanced Pain Discovery Platform (APDP)

In response to this initiative, we have launched a joint partnership with the UK Government through UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) to establish the Advanced Pain Discovery Platform (APDP). The APDP is an ambitious £24 million five-year partnership that aims to unravel the complexities of persistent pain by bringing together multidisciplinary experts in the UK along with people living with persistent pain to tackle the problem. Through cutting edge science and technology, the platform will focus on human data, bridging biological, psychological and social sciences to better understand pain mechanisms and develop new treatment solutions. Through our industry partners, we will ensure a rapid take up and development of new treatments.

With the new knowledge developed by the partnership, we will also better understand the transition from acute to persistent chronic pain and also how persistent chronic pain may itself worsen and become debilitating. Understanding biological mechanisms will help inform future approaches to both primary and secondary prevention of persistent pain.

The IASP 2020 Global Year for the Prevention of Pain is an important initiative that shines a light not only on the impact of persistent pain, but also highlights what is known about primary and secondary prevention of persistent pain. There is much that can be done to reduce the chance of developing persistent pain and through the global year initiative, IASP aims to disseminate important information to lead to better outcomes for patients.


  • Arthritis Research UK (2017) Musculoskeletal conditions and multimorbidity.
  • Unmet needs study Arthritis Research UK, 2015. 24% of PWA feel low or depressed frequently because of their condition. Amongst those with severe pain this increases to 49%.
  • NHS Digital, “Health Survey for England 2017 Adult Health,” Health and Social Care Information Centre, 2018.
  • State of MSK Health, Arthritis Research UK, 2018.

Contributor Profile

Director of Research
Versus Arthritis
Phone: +44 (0)300 790 0400
Website: Visit Website


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here