Cognitive processes in pain

We are generally interested in the relationship between cognition and pain.

One core programme seeks to identify the aspects of attention that are most affected by pain, as well as the conditions under which such disruption is most likely to occur. We know that pain is attention-grabbing and that it is difficult to draw attention away from pain. We have explored pain-related interruption under highly-controlled settings, and are now focusing on the way in which these effects translate into real-world settings. Based on this work, we are interested in establishing new analgesic endpoints.

The second area of interest focuses on the way pain results in cognitive biases, especially in attention and memory. Here, we are keen to learn more about the way information processing biases may contribute to the perception and experience of pain. Our work has focused on threat-related attentional biases found in both acute and chronic pain states. We also have a focus on spatial attentional biases in individuals with Complex Regional Pain Syndrome.

Social factors in pain, including sex and gender differences

Another area of our work considers the wider social and interpersonal context of pain, with a particular focus on sex and gender. We want to better understand why men and women seem to vary in their experience and response to pain. We are looking at the psychosocial factors that may help to explain this variation, including emotional, cognitive and behavioural factors.

We know that pain does not happen in isolation, and so a key programme focuses on the interpersonal factors that may be involved in men and women’s pain. This includes looking at the way in which people communicate pain to one another through verbal and nonverbal behaviours. We are also interested in the wider gender context in which pain occurs, including the influence role gender-based beliefs and expectations may have on men and women’s pain.

Child and family

We are interested in children and adolescents with chronic pain and their family structures. A core programme is exploring the transition from acute to chronic pain, explaining why some young people are more at risk of developing chronic pain after injury than others. We are also interested in family structures within which people experience pain and seek pain relief. We have a long track record in developing measurement technology to assess pain-related distress and disability, and we are interested in novel treatment development and service delivery. We are currently leading a Lancet Special Commission on Child and Adolescent Pain.

Digital development (ehealth and mhealth)

Modern communication, sensor and machine learning technologies provide opportunities to re-vision and re-develop traditional approaches to health and medical interventions in pain management. We have programmes of work in virtual reality solutions for chronic and acute pain, in the use of artificial intelligence for pain diagnostics, and on small data solutions for personalised pain solutions.

Evidence-based pain

We are doing significant work in evidence-based pain management. Professor Eccleston is Coordinating Editor of the Pain, Palliative and Supportive Care Cochrane Review Group and Chair of the Special Interest Group of IASP on Systematic Review. We maintain a portfolio of evidence synthesis research on all treatments for acute and chronic pain.

Palliative and supportive care

Finally, we are actively engaged in palliative care research in several programmes. We maintain the evidence base with the Cochrane Library for palliative and supportive care, support Marie Curie on their research strategy, and work in partnership with Dorothy House as a provider of hospice and community care.