The Painful Truth: TV and film should show the reality of chronic pain

The Painful Truth Campaign

18 million people live in chronic pain in the UK. Arthritis and musculoskeletal conditions are one of the biggest causes.

The daily grind of living in pain stops you being able to work, to socialise, to care for your family, or even to move freely.

Despite affecting so many people and often in such a debilitating way, painful conditions like arthritis are often dismissed by society.

We know that popular culture like TV and film plays a powerful role in shaping our perceptions. Yet our research shows that in the most popular TV and films, chronic pain is either not represented at all or it’s badly portrayed.

This engrains misconceptions about who lives with chronic pain like arthritis and what it can do to your life. It also stops people who live with it from getting the help and support they need.

That’s not alright. And that is what our campaign, The Painful Truth, is here to change.

What we’re calling for

We’re calling on the TV and film industry to better represent the experiences of people in chronic pain in their story lines and productions, so people living with it feel seen, heard and better understood.

How we are helping

To support them to do this, we’ve created the first ever guide for the TV and film industry on how to better and more frequently represent chronic pain in their productions.

The Painful Truth: A Guide to Depicting Chronic Pain on Screen (PDF, 2.6 MB), was created with input from more than 4000 people with arthritis or chronic pain as well as professionals working in the TV and film industry.

It provides accessible information on the condition, practical suggestions for accurate storylines and characters, and powerful example stories of people living with the pain of arthritis, with the aim that scriptwriters and commissioners will incorporate more accurate and more frequent depictions within their programming.

Download our resources

The Painful Truth: A Guide to Depicting Chronic Pain on Screen (PDF, 2.6 MB).

This free resource is full of tips and advice for organisations in the TV and film industry.

What we found

The Painful Truth study analysed 100 hours of footage from the UK’s most-watched TV shows and films from 2019, including shows such as Killing Eve, Line of Duty, Sex Education and The Avengers. We found that the experiences and stories of people living in chronic pain were virtually invisible and untold.

Despite millions of people living with chronic pain, predominantly caused by arthritis and related conditions, just six minutes of the most watched TV and film of 2019 were dedicated to their experiences.

And in the rare instances it was included, it was mostly dismissed or misrepresented.

“Due to the unrealistic representation of pain caused by arthritis and other long-term illness on TV and in films, I have definitely felt less confident about speaking up and about whether people will believe me and understand.”

Joanna, 41, from West Dumfries, lives with juvenile polyarticular rheumatoid arthritis (JPRA)

“Unless people die, you don’t see long term health stuff portrayed on film or TV at all. You get people with health conditions, but it never goes into the detail of pain – it’s all very face-value, there’s no depth."

Jamie, 33, from Norwich, lives with rheumatoid arthritis

Our study also found that TV and film’s dismissal of pain is preventing people with arthritis from opening up about their pain and seeking out help, advice and support.

That’s not alright. And that’s what our campaign, The Painful Truth, is here to change.

Share your story

We’re asking people with arthritis to share their story of living with pain with us on social media, using the hashtag #ThePainfulTruth and tagging us @versusarthritis.

We’d love you to post a single image or video or Instagram / Facebook story that shows your reality of living in pain, so together we can inspire the TV and film industry.

Whether it’s an image of medication or a picture of you with your friend, family or partner who supports you through your pain, we’d love to showcase the range of incredible stories behind each of the 18 million people in the UK living in chronic pain.

Feel free to also share our campaign video on your social media.

Our news and PR team work with journalists to share real life stories in the media. You can also share your experience with the team here and they will be in touch.

Faye smiling at the camera.

“I am 21, and I have never witnessed an accurate portrayal of my pain on TV. Not seeing representation makes me feel alienated and almost as if my pain is not valid. ‘Pain’ is typically related to physical injury, labour, grieving, mental illnesses and when long-term pain is depicted it is often through an elderly character, which again reinforces the assumption that long-term pain is associated with old age.” Kalifa, 21, from West Yorkshire, lives with seronegative rheumatoid arthritis (RA)

Faye smiling at the camera.



"I can honestly say I have never seen the pain that I go through as an arthritis sufferer shown on film and TV which is upsetting as I don’t feel it’s represented in any way.” Faye, 27, from Bristol, lives with ankylosing spondylitis (AS) 

The Painful Truth

Help and advice

You don't need to face arthritis alone. You can find help, advice and support here:

Our friendly, expert advisors aim to bring all of the information and advice about arthritis into one place to provide tailored support for you.

Call us for free* today (Monday–Friday, 9am–8pm) on 0800 5200 520.

*Calls to our 0800 number are free when calling from within the UK but charges will apply when calling from abroad. For more information contact your network provider.