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Persistent pain in Ireland - Survey shows significant impact levels on Irish people

Sleep, family life , relationships, ability to work, socialise and sex life all significantly impacted


Sunday 8th September 2019

Persistent pain is a significant healthcare issue in Ireland and this has been borne out by the latest national survey on chronic or persistent pain in the country.  The nationally representative poll of over 1,000 people on chronic or persistent pain carried out for the Irish Society of Chartered Physiotherapists (ISCP) for World Physiotherapy Day, highlights the impact of persistent pain on people’s everyday life (75%), their sport and social life (73%) and people’s ability to participate in activities with their children, friends or partner (71%). The survey also shows just over three quarters of Irish people (76%) saying that it has had an impact on their sleep and three in ten (30%) within that saying it has a huge impact. Furthermore two in every three Irish people (66%) said that chronic pain impacted on their work with a quarter (25%) saying it has a ‘huge’ impact whilst just over the half the population (52%) said it has had an impact on their relationships or sex life. This year’s theme for World Physiotherapy Day is Chronic Pain.


Previous studies have estimated that approximately 1.65 million people in Ireland have chronic pain costing an estimated at €5.34 billion per year back in 2011 and physiotherapy pain experts have said they believe this hasn’t changed and in fact has probably greatly increased putting a significant burden on our health services. Other significant results from the survey which marks World Physiotherapy Day show that just over two in every five Irish people (41%) said that chronic pain has had a huge impact on their sporting or social life with just under a third (32%) saying it has had a huge impact on their ability to partake in activities with their children, friends or partner.


Brona Fullen Associate Professor in the UCD School of Public Health, Physiotherapy and Sports Science said “It has been estimated that between 50% and 80% of people with persistent pain have problems sleeping (insomnia). These two conditions are often bidirectional; pain can interfere with sleep and sleep disturbance can exacerbate pain. Pain can erode sleep quality and alter the sleep restorative process and can lead to next day sleepiness, fatigue affecting cognitive function.”


“Living with persistent pain is not easy. Not only does it impact on one’s physical well-being but it can also impact on one’s mental health status. With persistent pain, daily functional life can be disrupted and therefore one’s ability to work, socialise, sleep, participate and contribute to life events can be significantly impacted. This leads to not only physical de-conditioning over time but can also lead to mental de-conditioning as emotions such as worry, stress, anxiety, low mood, fear and anger can develop perpetuating the problem and making things worse,” she continued.


Physiotherapists play a key role in the rehabilitation of patients with persistent pain. They work with the patient to gain an understanding of the problem and provide rehabilitation programmes to optimise both physical and mental health status. Treatment strategies utilised by physiotherapists include manual therapy, structured exercise programmes and psychologically informed physiotherapy to help patients understand and cope better with their pain and to provide patients with a routine of exercise to regain their strength and conditioning both physically and mentally.


SURVEY RESULTS – How much of an impact, if any, would you say your chronic/persistent pain has had in relation to each of the following;

  • Your sleep
    • A huge impact   30%
    • Some impact     45%
  • Your everyday life
    • A huge impact   26%
    • Some impact     49%
  • Your sport/social life
    • A huge impact   41%
    • Some impact     32%
  • Your ability to partake in activities with children/friends/partner
    • A huge impact   32%
    • Some impact     40%
  • Your ability to work
    • A huge impact   25%
    • Some impact     41%
  • Your relationship/sex life
    • A huge impact   17%
    • Some impact     35%



Research was conducted through an online survey by Empathy Research across a nationally representative sample of N=1,026 adults aged 18+. Quotas were placed on gender, age, social class and region with weighting applied to ensure final data was representative of these quotas. Research was conducted amongst members of Empathy Research’s proprietary research panel. The sample size of N=1,026 results in a margin of error of +/- 3.0%


About World Physiotherapy Day - The 8th of September every year signifies World Physiotherapy/Physical Therapy Day and offers an opportunity for our profession to raise awareness about the crucial contribution our profession makes in keeping people well and independent. This year the theme for the day is chronic pain, a significant burden on global health with low back pain causing more disability than any other condition. Our profession is best placed to help those with living with chronic pain and the 8th of September is our opportunity to showcase this to the world.


About The Irish Society of Chartered Physiotherapists (ISCP): The Irish Society of Chartered Physiotherapists is the national, professional body representing over 3,000 Chartered Physiotherapists in Ireland. The Society is respected and recognised both within and outside the profession, as the voice of physiotherapy in Ireland. We support our members in delivering the highest standards of professional care and work with them to develop their skills and support them in their practice.