By Guest Author 17/01/2020

Hemakumar Devan

Around three million New Zealanders access news media (both paper and online) every week. Yes, you heard that right! So, the potential for news media to shape public health beliefs is common sense.

As chronic pain affects one in five New Zealanders, we wanted to find out how New Zealand’s news media have reported chronic pain by doing an in-depth analysis of news reports.

What we found

From searching all popular news media published since 2015, we found 240 news reports on chronic pain. From our analysis, we found three major categories. (1) Reports that focused on people’s experiences of living with pain, (2) the management strategies used for chronic pain, which included both pharmaceutical and non-drug based strategies, (3) the challenges associated with accessing healthcare system for chronic pain diagnosis and management.

(1) Chronic pain as suffering and no hope: The stories portrayed people living with chronic pain as ‘sufferers’ with ‘no hope’ of recovery or pain management. While the impact of chronic pain on the person, their whānau, their loss of social participation in the form of losing jobs was captured comprehensively, the lack of information on support services available that could help to manage chronic pain and encourage participation in family and social lives despite pain was a concern.

(2) Focus on opioids and medicinal cannabis over non-drug strategies: More than half of the reports focused on the side-effects of opioids and how people were not informed about the risks of the medication when prescribed. Cannabis was reported as a ‘silver bullet’ for chronic pain relief, although there is limited evidence to support this claim1 and only a few stories covered the side-effects of medicinal cannabis. By contrast, stories on non-drug strategies such as psychological treatments, activity pacing, and pain education received only around 30 articles each. These non-drug strategies have evidence for long-term improvements in pain and function.2

(3) Healthcare system challenges for receiving best practice care: There was accurate reporting of the challenges for people with chronic pain to access and receive best-practice care in NZ. This was particularly more common for Māori and Pasifika populations. Lack of trained healthcare professionals and long waiting lists for specialised pain services contribute to the existing burden of delayed diagnosis and frustration with NZ health system for adequate pain management.

What does it mean?

News media, given its wider reach, has the potential to change public health beliefs. Our analysis showed that the NZ public is not receiving evidence-based information particularly related to risks and benefits of chronic pain management strategies. There is inconclusive evidence to support the use of medicinal cannabis for chronic pain relief long-term; meanwhile, there is evidence to suggest side-effects of using cannabis such as dependency, mood changes and driving safety, particularly in young people. Emphasis on best practice care via providing information on non-drug based strategies can assist people to effectively manage chronic pain and take control of their lives despite pain.

What can be done?

We concluded a dedicated public health campaign and media reporting guidelines for chronic pain, similar to reporting of people living with mental health conditions in NZ, with supporting resources on both non-drug and drug-based treatment strategies could help address public misconceptions and could make an impact at a societal level.


  1. Stockings E, Campbell G, Hall WD, et al. Cannabis and cannabinoids for the treatment of people with chronic noncancer pain conditions: a systematic review and meta-analysis of controlled and observational studies. Pain. 2018;159(10):1932-1954.
  2. Nicholas MK, Blyth FM. Are self-management strategies effective in chronic pain treatment? Pain Manag. 2016;6(1):75-88.

Media representation of chronic pain in Aotearoa New Zealand—a content analysis of news media. Hemakumar Devan, Jessica Young, Ceonne Avery, Liv Elder, Yulia Khasyanova, Dominic Manning, Morghan Scrimgeour, Rebecca Grainger. New Zealand Medical Journal. 2020;133(1508). Available from