Impact of pain on society costs the EU up to 441 billion Euros annually

Brussels / Valetta, May 18, 2017. Pain causes a problem for individuals as well as a challenge for healthcare systems, economies and society: each year, approximately one in five Europeans or 20 percent of the adult population in Europe are affected by chronic pain (1). This includes 153 million people suffering migraine or other disabling headaches, 200 million musculoskeletal disorders and 100 million people experiencing other forms of chronic pain (2). The estimated direct and indirect healthcare costs for chronic pain disorders in European Member States vary between two and three percent of GDP across the EU (3) (4). For 2016, this estimate would result in up to 441 billion Euros (5). Therefore, in advance of the Societal Impact of Pain symposium, experts in pain care call upon European and national policymakers to improve pain care policies and boost the productivity of the European workforce.

The European Union and its member states are confronted with substantial challenges. On the one hand, the need to increase productivity and prevent involuntary early retirement, on the other hand, to provide a social system that cares for an ageing population. In early 2017, the discussion in the European Parliament on the European Semester for economic policy coordination led to a resolution. In this resolution the European Parliament expressed its concern about the effects of demographic developments on public finances, pensions and healthcare systems and warns that the already foreseeable funding costs will have a significant impact (6). 

Experts estimate that half of all citizens living in the EU at some point in their lives suffer from back pain. Approximately 15 percent of these citizens with back pain are on sick leave for over one month (7). Worldwide chronic pain conditions (in particular back pain) are by far the greatest cause of disability (8) (9). Unsurprisingly chronic pain is one of the major reasons why people exit the labour market prematurely and it contributes significantly to disability retirement (10).

Aside from its effect on the workforce, chronic pain is one of the top causes of disability in every region of Europe and increases the risks of other health problems, social exclusion and poverty (11) (12). Stigma and lack of public knowledge worsen the burden on patients and families by preventing people in pain from seeking treatment. Large health inequalities persist in the EU as many patients do not have access to adequate pain treatment.

Although pan-European data comparing the impact of pain on health care systems are lacking, we know that pain disorders are amongst the most prevalent, costly and disabling conditions in the workplace (13). Analysis focussing on the impact of pain on labour force participation, absence from work (absenteeism) and attending work while sick (presenteeism) have demonstrated that the experience of pain had a substantial negative association with labour force participation in Europe (14).

Due to the effects of pain on rates of absenteeism, reduced productivity and even the risk of employees leaving the labour market, social protection systems spend a large budget on pain related complaints (15). Data from the Labour Force Survey shows that over 2.3 million people in the UK report conditions or disabilities related to their back or neck as their main health problem (16). In 2013, low back pain was ranked highest of all injury-related disabilities and yielded the largest total number of “Years Lived with Disability” throughout England (17). With more than 500 million sick days per year in Europe, musculoskeletal pain causes almost 50 percent of all absences from work lasting at least three days in the EU and 60 percent of permanent work incapacity (18).

Healthy citizens, on the other side, reduce the strain on healthcare systems and boost economic growth by staying active for longer. Effective pain policies can positively impact the productivity and longevity of Europe’s labour force and delay early retirement.

Under the auspices of the 2017 Maltese Presidency of the Council of the EU the Societal Impact of Pain symposium from June 7–9, 2017 will bring together more than 300 participants representing healthcare professionals, pain advocacy groups, researchers and specialists in the field of pain as well as insurers and budget holders. The SIP platform aims to create structured EU-wide cooperation with lasting political impact, to find solutions that improve the lives of those with chronic pain, but also minimize the impact of pain on society.

About the SIP-Platform

The Societal Impact of Pain (SIP) is an international, multi-stakeholder platform created as a joint initiative of the European Pain Federation EFIC® and Grünenthal with the aim to:

  • raise awareness of the relevance of the impact that pain has on our societies, health and economic systems
  • exchange information and sharing best-practices across all Member States of the European Union
  • develop and foster European-wide policy strategies for an improved pain management in Europe (Pain Policy).

Over 300 international and national pain advocacy groups, scientific organisations and authorities have endorsed the scientific aims of SIP symposia and meetings.

The scientific framework of the “Societal Impact of Pain” (SIP) platform is under the responsibility of the European Pain Federation EFIC®. Cooperation partners for SIP 2017 are Pain Alliance Europe (PAE) and Active Citizenship Network (ACN). The SIP 2017 symposium is co-hosted by the Malta Health Network and the No Pain Foundation. The pharmaceutical company Grünenthal GmbH is responsible for funding and non-financial support (e.g. logistical support). In the past the scientific aims of the SIP symposia have been endorsed by over 300 international and national pain advocacy groups, scientific organisations and authorities.

The SIP 2017 symposium will be held in Hotel Excelsior, Valletta, Malta 7-9 June. We expect around 300 participants, representing all stakeholder groups involved in pain policy (e.g. health care professionals, pain policy advocates, politicians, regulators, and budget holders, representatives of patient organizations, health insurance companies and health authorities).

Topics to be discussed are:

  1. European and national platform addressing the societal impact of pain
  2. Pain and employment
  3. Pain as a quality indicator for health systems
  4. Challenges, models and best practices in pain policy
  5. Evolving concepts in the definition of chronic pain: a dynamic process

The outcome of the symposium will include concrete policy suggestions which will be ratified at the plenary on the 9th.

Confirmed speakers represent the following areas:

  • Members of the European Parliament
  • Representatives of European institutions
  • National policy makers
  • Scientific experts
  •  Patient representatives
  •  Participants coming from 28 countries

Interview opportunities will be available on both days of the symposium.

You find more information at


Please register at: . After receipt of application for registration you will be notified on the status of your registration.

For more information, including speaker bios and fact sheets, please contact Sabrina Kieback:, +49 (0) 69 9622 190


1. Breivik, H, et al., et al.Survey of chronic pain in Europe: prevalence, impact on daily life, and treatment. European Journal of Pain. 2006, Vol. 10, pp. 287–333.

2. Brain, Mind and Pain.The Book of Evidence. s.l. : Brain, Mind and Pain interst group, 2015.

3. Bevan, Stephen.Reducing Temporary Work Absence Through Early Intervention: The case of MSDs in the EU. Lancashire : The Work Foundation, 2013.

4. Breivik, H, Eisenberg, E and O'Brien, T. The individual and societal burden of chronic pain in Europe: the case for strategic prioritisation and action to improve knowledge and availability of appropriate care. BMC Public Health. 24 December 2013, Vol. 13, 1229.

5. EuroStat. Eurostat Newsrelease. Eurostat. [Online] 3 30, 2017. [Cited: 5 10, 2017.] 52/2017.

6. European Parliament. European Parliament resolution of on the European Semester for economic policy coordination: Annual Growth Survey 2017 (2016/2306(INI)). European Parliament. [Online] 15 Feb 2017. [Cited: May 17 2017.] 2016/2306(INI).

7. Bevan, Stephen, et al., et al.Fit For Work? Musculoskeletal Disorders in the European Workforce. s.l. : The work foundation, 2009.

8. Newton, John N, et al., et al.Changes in health in England, with analysis by English regions and areas of deprivation, 1990–2013: a systematic analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study 2013. The Lancet. 5 December 2015, Vol. 386, pp. 2257-2274.

9. Global, regional, and national incidence, prevalence, and years lived with disability for 310 diseases and injuries, 1990–2015: a systematic analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study 2015. Vos, Theo, et al., et al. 388, 8 October 2016, The lancet, pp. 1545 - 1602.

10. Saastamoinen, P, et al., et al.Pain and disability retirement: a prospective cohort study. Pain. March 2012, Vol. 153(3), pp. 526-531.

11. Pain Concern. Transcript – Programme 76: Pain, poverty and employment. [Online] 29 February 2016. [Cited: 26 July 2016.]

12. Phillips, Ceri, et al., et al.Prioritising pain in policy making: The need for a whole systems perspective. Health Policy. 2008, Vol. 88, pp. 166-175.

13. Schultz, IZ, et al., et al.Models of Return to Work for Musculoskeletal Disorders. Journal of Occupational Rehabilitation. June 2007, Vol. 17(2), pp. 327–352.

14. Langley, P C, et al., et al. The impact of pain on labor force participation, absenteeism and presenteeism in the European Union. Journal of Medical Economics. 4, 2010, Vol. 13, pp. 662-672.

15. Barmer GEK. Press: Barmer GEK Arztreport 2016; Über drei Millionen Patienten mit chronischem Schmerz. [Online] 23 02 2016. [Cited: 26 07 2016.]

16. UK, Dept for Work and Pensions, Dept of Health.Work, Health and Disability Green Paper Data Pack. London : Government Digital Service, 2016.

17. England, Public Health. Burden of Disease Study for England. [Online] 12 October 2016, 15 September 2015. [Cited: 13 November 2016.]

18. Bevan, Stephen.Reducing Temporary Work Absence Through Early Intervention: The case of MSDs in the EU. Lancashire : The Work Foundation, 2013.


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