3D illustration of back pain

Facts & figures

Pain in Australia

  • 1 in 5 Australians suffer from persistent and chronic pain.
  • $60.5 billion The annual cost of associated lost workdays and healthcare to the economy.
  • 44.6% People living with chronic pain also experienced depression and anxiety
  • 5.23 million Projected prevalence of chronic pain by 2050

Pain Management Research Institute

Working to improve the lives of people living with pain
We bring together a multidisciplinary group of clinicians, researchers and educators to improve understanding of all forms of pain and their treatments - from acute pain to chronic pain and cancer pain management.

About us

Established in 1990, the Pain Management Research Institute (PMRI) is joint initiative between the Specialty of Pain Medicine at the University of Sydney and Royal North Shore Hospital.

We form a division of the Kolling Institute of Medical Research and are recognised by the NSW Ministry of Health as the lead centre for pain research and education in NSW.

Our multidisciplinary research, teaching and clinical activities aim to improve the treatment of all forms of severe pain by:

Understanding pain in less than 5 minutes

The impact of pain

Pain is as an unpleasant sensory and emotional experience associated with actual or potential tissue damage.

When pain is brief or short-term, it acts as a warning for the body to seek help. However, when pain never goes away, becomes severe and persists month after month despite the causes being treated, it can go on to cause severe physical and psychological problems.

An estimated 1 in 5 Australians suffer from chronic pain, locking many patients in to a cycle of pills, depression and bed rest.

The total associated cost of lost workdays and healthcare adds up to over $34 billion per year, making it one of Australia's most costly healthcare problems.

Types of severe pain

Usually, but not always, of short duration eg. after surgery, injury, burns or other short-term episodes.

Acute pain can affect the heart, lungs, and other key body systems and can be life threatening. Research at the PMRI aims to improve the treatment of acute pain to prevent life threatening risks, and is developing methods to detect those at risk of progressing from acute pain to severe persistent pain.

Chronic pain describes any type of pain that continually persists for more than 3 months, despite attempts to diagnose and treat an underlying cause.

There are over 300 conditions that may lead to persistent pain, such as "shingles", amputation, severe burns, spinal cord injury, low back or neck injury, surgery of various types, hernia repairs and many other causes.

Evidence from the PMRI and other international groups such as Harvard University, show that without relief, persistent pain can go on to cause severe physical and psychological problems and can sometimes lead to suicide.

In these cases, the pain itself becomes the problem and is recognised as a disease. This is the major theme of PMRI’s basic and clinical research program.

Many different problems in patients with cancer can cause severe pain. Some cancer pain is acute and some is persistent.

There have been improvements in the treatment of cancer pain, however too many adults and children continue to suffer severe unrelieved cancer pain, especially if nerve damage has occurred.

Our research

We bring together basic, clinical and translational researchers to run a number of major research programs investigating mechanisms and treatment of severe persistent pain problems.

Research is conducted within a biopsychosocial framework and includes the study of basic pain mechanisms and the development and evaluation of innovative multidisciplinary treatments.

Research developments are quickly translated into our web-based educational programs in pain management, which are offered at a diploma and masters degree level through the University of Sydney.

Our basic laboratories include the Cognitive and Behavioural Research Laboratory, Cellular Physiology of Pain Research Laboratory, Pain Management Human Studies Group and the Spinal Cord Injury Pain Clinical Research Laboratory.

Located on Level 13 of the Kolling Building at Royal North Shore Hospital, our basic research facilities include:

  • Patch clamp electrophysiology
  • Live cell imaging
  • Fluorescence microscopy
  • Histology, including cryostats and freezing microtomes
  • Tissue culture
  • Cell and molecular biology
  • Behavioural assays

Normative Data for Chronic Pain Measures

This is the largest and most comprehensive normative data set published to date in pain literature.

It is used to determine the characteristics of different samples for comparison with age, sex, and site-based norms.

The main body pain sites included are:

  • Head/face (pp 42-44)
  • Neck/Cervical Region (pp 45-47)
  • Shoulders/arms (pp 48-50)
  • Lower back (pp 51-53)
  • Lower back & legs (pp 57-59)
  • Legs (pp 54-56)
  • Two or more pain sites (pp 60-62)

Access the Motor Accident Authority Report (pdf, 271.4kb) for the full dataset.

Work Injury Screening & Early Intervention (WISE)

The WISE study evaluated the implementation of an early risk screening and psychosocial management intervention instituted for employees with acute soft tissue injuries within a large hospital network in Australia.

The protocol demonstrated great value for the employer (the NSW State Health Department) with savings to date that have amounted to 22 % for the high-risk intervention group over the similar control group, and mean lost work days of 30 vs 64, respectively, over the year following injury. 

The intervention is now being implemented as standard practice for all public hospitals in that state. In addition, planning is underway to change the guidelines covering the early management of injured workers generally across the state.

Basic research

Clinical Professor Chris Vaughan
Head of Cellular Physiology of Pain Laboratory
Principal Hospital Scientist, Royal North Shore Hospital
Clinical Professor, The University of Sydney

Dr Karin Aubrey
Head of Neurobiology of Pain Laboratory
Senior Hospital Scientist and Senior Research Fellow, Northern Clinical School, The University of Sydney

Clinical research

Professor Paul Glare
Chair in Pain Medicine, The University of Sydney
Director, Pain Management Research Institute, The University of Sydney, Royal North Shore Hospital

Professor Michael Nicholas
Director, Pain Education and Pain Management Programs, Pain Management Research Institute, The University of Sydney
Michael J Cousins Pain Management and Research Centre, Royal North Shore Hospital

Associate Professor Paul Wrigley
Head Sensory-Neurophysiology Research Laboratory, Staff Pain Specialist, Royal North Shore Hospital
Conjoint Associate Professor, Northern Clinical School, The University of Sydney

Ms Linda Critchley
Coordinator of Clinical Research

Our education programs

Postgraduate courses

Our postgraduate courses are offered in conjuction with Sydney Medical School's Specialty of Pain Medicine, designed to explore the problem of pain in the community and the role of health professionals in managing and treating a range of pain conditions.

Professional development and short courses

We also offer non-award units of study and run professional development events and short courses for health professionals interested in developing their knowledge further in the field of pain management.

Patient services

The clinical activities of PMRI staff now provide over 40,000 episodes of patient care each year. We work in close collaboration with the Michael J Cousins Pain Management & Research Centre (PMRC), to treat patients with acute pain, cancer pain, and chronic non-cancer pain with referral from either GP or treating specialists.

The activities of the PMRC include:

  • a large clinical service for acute, subacute, chronic and cancer pain (40,000 episodes of patient care per annum)
  • group and individual patient services conducted by multidisciplinary staff
  • pain treatments including (alone and in combination) pharmacotherapy, electrical stimulation, radiofrequency ablations, psychological and physiotherapy.

If you have acute, chronic or cancer pain and would like to make an appointment you first need to:

  • visit your GP
  • ask for a referral
  • gather all relevant test results, scans and medical reports
  • call +61 (2) 9463 1500
  • see also: PMRC website

Our people

  • Professor Paul Glare
    Director, Pain Management Research Institute
  • Associate Professor Charles Brooker
    Head of Dept Pain Management, Michael J Cousins Pain Management and Research Centre
  • Professor Michael Nicholas
    Director of Education and ADAPT Pain Management Program, Pain Management Research Institute
  • Associate Professor Paul Wrigley
    Head Sensory-Neurophysiology Research Laboratory, Pain Management Research Institute


Paul Glare
Professor Paul Glare
View academic profile

Contact us

  • +61 2 9463 1526 (EA to Director)
  • +61 2 9463 1500 (Clinic)
  • +61 2 9463 1516 (Pain Education)
  • Douglas Building, Reserve Road, St Leonards Royal North Shore Hospital

How to find us

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