How do people living with pain engage with politics and social activities?

A man holding his hands up.

Pain caused by arthritis and other musculoskeletal conditions has a huge impact on quality of life. Eight out of ten people with arthritis experience pain most days and for many the current pain relief drugs are ineffective.

Understanding types of pain

We recognise that it is vitally important that we increase our understanding of the causes, variety and impact of pain on people with arthritis in order to help us develop more effective pain relief treatments, that’s why we have made pain a priority area for research.

Among many other research projects looking at pain, we have a dedicated research centre, based at the University of Nottingham.

We have been working together with pain experts, and people with arthritis, to develop a research roadmap for pain which outlines the most pressing areas for future pain research. The hope is, that if research funders turn their focus towards pain, we’ll positively transform the lives of people with arthritis and take away the daily impact of pain on all aspects of life.

We know that pain can impact on every part of a person’s life, including their ability to work, live independently, and engage with their family and friends. It can also have an impact on the way a person interacts with their community and takes part in social and civic activities, such as voting or charitable work.

Pain and social activities

Researchers at our pain centre have been investigating the link using between pain and civic engagement, using data from the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing, a study which has collected information on the health, social, wellbeing and economic circumstances of the English population aged 50 and older.

Researchers discovered that social activities were limited in those with severe pain. These people took less holidays and took part in social activities less frequently. One of the most interesting findings to come out of this study was that people in low or minimal pain were more likely to vote than the general population in their age group.

The authors speculated that those in lower pain may vote more readily as they want to ensure that their future healthcare and pensions are improved, and ultimately secure their own future.

In contrast, the findings showed that those in severe pain were less likely to vote. It isn’t clear why this is; it may be due to the levels of pain they are experiencing, difficulties with mobility, or that those in severe pain do not feel empowered enough to vote.

The impact of pain fog

In our own research, people in significant pain talk of a pain fog that reduces their concentration levels and ability to focus on simple things we take for granted, such as watching the TV.  This may explain why these individuals may struggle to consider their political opinion, and therefore go on to vote. This type of civic engagement is also linked to well-being, so it becomes even more important to address this, as it may have health benefits too.

Looking at the results from this research, it suggests that people who are starting to show symptoms of arthritis should be supported to ensure they stay engaged in politics and social activities as their condition progresses. This could ultimately ensure that the impact of pain on quality of life could be addressed, allowing people to maintain engagement in these types of activity regardless of pain.

Get involved

Our campaigns team want to ensure that the voices of people with arthritis are heard by the people who make the decisions. This is particularly important for those who are struggling with their pain and may not be in a position to make their own voices heard.

Together we can apply pressure to improve the health and social care system, ensure people with arthritis are supported in the workplace and obtain the help they need from the welfare system, as well as benefiting from new and effective treatments.

To make this a reality, our campaigns team would like people with arthritis to get involved and support their activity.

Currently, more than 4,000 people are part of our UK wide Campaign Network. By being part of the network, you will receive one email a month with updates and actions, and then you can pick and choose what to take part in. Whether that’s sharing your story, attending an event, signing a petition, or completing a survey; every activity, however big or small, will give our campaigns more chance of success.

You can find out more and sign up here.