The Painful Truth - a campaign to get TV and films to show the reality of chronic pain

The Painful Truth Campaign

It’s estimated nearly 18.4 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, arthritis is 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.

Join us

We’re calling on the TV and film industry to change the way chronic pain is portrayed, so we can make sure that the power of popular culture is harnessed and ultimately, more people understand what it’s like to live in chronic pain.


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.

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 on living life to the full by visiting the following links:

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.