A public health campaign challenging outdated preconceptions and supporting people affected by chronic pain has completed a ‘life-changing’ tour of the North East.

With an overall goal of changing the way people think about, talk about and treat chronic pain, Flippin’ Pain, organised six days of free events and activities, taking its campaign messages to towns and cities across North East England, from Durham to Whitby. 

Featuring public seminars and workshops for healthcare professionals, additional stop-off points during the roadshow were Darlington, Guisborough, Saltburn and Hartlepool and included talks by pain academics, clinicians, and other experts in the field, including world-renowned pain scientist and educator Professor Lorimer Moseley. 

The campaign’s interactive ‘brain bus experience’ also pitched up at Middlesborough’s James Cook Hospital, Darlington town centre, Yarm, Whitby Bandstand and Durham Marketplace.

The Northern Echo: Flippin' Pain's VR experience in Whitby. Picture: The Tonic Communications Flippin' Pain's VR experience in Whitby. Picture: The Tonic Communications (Image: The Tonic Communications)

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Passers-by were invited to ‘flip’ their understanding of how the brain works - walking the plank off the roof of a city skyscraper via virtual reality and feeling phantom fingers through a perception exercise. 

Across the six days, a 25-strong team of cyclists rode the footprint of the roadshow fundraising for national pain charity, Pain Concern.

The peloton comprised event speakers and panel members, such as people who live with chronic pain themselves, health professionals, and pain experts.

In total, they raised over £7000.

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One of the people who visited the tour was 54-year-old Amanda Craggs, from Guisborough, who has experienced persistent pain since her teens and has fibromyalgia, osteoporosis, and ME.

She attended the public consultation session at St Nicholas Parish Church Hall in her hometown, and though initially sceptical, she found the information and advice she received transformed the way she thought about her pain.

She later said: “It changed my life. My whole outlook on life and everything has completely changed. I felt I was listened to and that things were explained to me in a user-friendly way.”

Best of all, Amanda has experienced a reduction in pain which means she has significantly reduced the level of painkillers she is taking.

The Northern Echo: Amanda Craggs, a chronic pain sufferer from Guisborough. Picture: The Tonic Communications Amanda Craggs, a chronic pain sufferer from Guisborough. Picture: The Tonic Communications (Image: The Tonic Communications)

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While she still has it in her hands and the rest of her body, she found that within a day of attending the event, the pain in her hip had completely gone.

She has even stopped using the walking stick that was a vital aid before.

“I still can’t fathom it or comprehend it,” she said, “But my hip pain has gone completely.”

Amanda also identified that the events she attended took away some of her fear around chronic pain, even though until that moment she says she hadn’t realised quite how much fear she was holding about it.

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Amanda wasn’t the only one feeling hopeful following the tour.

A questionnaire of attendees, nearly a quarter (24 per cent) of whom can’t work due to their pain and a third rely on opioids for pain management, also highlighted a shift in their beliefs about their pain.

Significantly, before the roadshow around a third of people believed that the only reason for experiencing pain was because that something in their body was damaged, however afterwards, after learning about all the other things that influence pain this dropped to 10 per cent, and 82 per cent said they would recommend Flippin’ Pain to friends and family. 

Flippin’ Pain campaign director, Richard Pell, said: “Spending six days touring the North East and getting out into the local community to meet people affected by chronic pain was so humbling and whilst we know there is so much more that can be done for people affected by persistent pain in the region, we couldn’t be prouder of the response we’ve had to our events.

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“Feedback from people like Amanda is what motivates us.

“Our aim is to share our very best understanding of pain, with as many people as possible.

“This reduces some of their fear and frustration and can be the catalyst for people – to make those vital first steps to taking back control and getting their lives back.

“Our events are so powerful because they bring together the latest scientific evidence about pain with real-life stories of people who are living with it.

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“Thank you to everyone who came along to the face-to-face sessions or joined virtually and to our fantastic project team, pain ambassadors, partners, and peloton riders.” 

Over 1000 people attended the in-person and virtual events during the tour, which took place from 7-12 May 2023.