The Chronic Pain Network: Revolutionizing Pain Management in Canada


Patient partners meeting to discuss future plans of the CPN © Courtesy of Chronic Pain Network

Chronic pain is one of the most common conditions affecting Canadians—an estimated one in five children, adults, and seniors experience pain that affects their ability to participate in daily activities, including work, leisure, and the simple activities of daily living. Pain is a complex condition in which biological issues (arising from trauma, disease, following surgery or after treatments for other conditions, such as cancer) interact with psychology (how people learn and understand their health, their underlying mood disorders, past histories of illness, trauma, and abuse) and their social setting, including the social determinants of health.

In 2016, the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) funded the Chronic Pain Network (CPN) under their Strategy for Patient-Oriented Research (SPOR) program. The SPOR program recognized that viable solutions require the active engagement of People With Lived Experience (PWLE) to ensure that research focuses on those areas most valuable to the patients themselves. These patient partners also participate in the conduct and promotion of the research and ensure respectful and effective conduct throughout.

Breaking the Chains of Chronic Pain

Now in its seventh year of operation, CPN has engaged researchers, healthcare professionals, educators, policymakers and patient partners nationwide to change how we manage pain in Canada. Patients have established priorities for pain research in adults and children and are an integral part of the governance of the CPN—a patient partner co-chairs every governance committee.

The Network, based at McMaster University, has created new knowledge across the country and the lifespan. Examples include the impact of parental pain on children’s experience of pain, awareness of the interactions between mental health disorders and chronic pain, understanding of the problem of undiagnosed pain in elderly living in institutions and the cost of not treating this pain, the benefit of smartphone apps to not only gather research data but help adolescents manage their pain, and increased understanding of the chronic pain problems that arise in Indigenous children, their challenges in communicating their pain experience and their difficulties accessing culturally appropriate care.

chronic pain network
© Courtesy of Chronic Pain Network

New relationships have been built among Indigenous health researchers across the country, between basic and clinical scientists studying pain, and a national network of academic pain clinics participating in clinical trials has been created. Our patient partners were available to advise Health Canada on its opioid strategy and the importance of recognizing the needs of people living with pain, and several also became members of the federal Canadian Pain Task Force, established by the Hon. Ginette Petitpas Taylor.

From Research to Action

Patient partner Linda Wilhelm said, “It’s helped me to take my experience of living with chronic pain to help improve the lives of other people, so they don’t go through what I’ve gone through,” about her work with CPN. For the next four years, the CPN will focus on moving knowledge into practice—creating an infrastructure to enhance public awareness of the problems of chronic pain, improve the education of healthcare professionals, provide education for pain researchers in the concepts and practice of patient engagement in their work, advise those providing pain care, researchers, and public policymakers. There will also be a significant focus on the sustainability of the network activity.

Fundraising will address the need to support the network infrastructure and advocacy directed toward allocating health and social science research dollars to better understand pain, its treatment and the social determinants of health that place people at risk and hinder their access to treatment.

“Together we can make meaningful change for many years to come for people living with pain,” said Carolyn Bennett, Canada’s Associate Minister of Health. Find the Network online at

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The Chronic Pain Network is one of five networks to receive funding through the Canadian Institutes of Health Research’s Strategy for Patient-Oriented Research (SPOR) and represents an unprecedented level of collaboration amongst national stakeholders. 


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