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After living with chronic and severe pain for the past 10 years, Dunedin man Grant Batchelor says he is kept going by his children.

A single father of two children, aged 11 and 9 years, Mr Batchelor (39) works as an investment adviser and battles every day with the ongoing effects of a neck injury.

“My kids are my anchor – it is because of them that I get up and carry on,” he said.

Mr Batchelor ruptured a disc in his neck during a judo bout about 10 years ago, and experienced a steady deterioration until he required discectomy surgery six years later. Since then, scar tissue and other issues have caused chronic and severe pain, as well as a host of other unpleasant symptoms.

Mr Batchelor is part of the estimated 15% of New Zealand’s population, more than 600,000 people, who suffer from the debilitating effects of chronic pain. The problem is largely hidden, but has a significant impact on the country’s health system and wider economy.

“Chronic pain is widely misunderstood, even though so many people are affected – from the elderly to young people,” Mr Batchelor said.

Pain has been a research theme for the University of Otago’s Brain Health Research Centre for the past year, and will remain a theme for four years.

After many years of studying Parkinson’s, researcher Dr Louise Parr-Brownlie has more recently focused on chronic pain and its effects on the structure of the brain.

“I was surprised when I embarked on this research by how little was known about the changes in the brain caused by chronic pain,” Dr Parr-Brownlie said.

MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) studies had shown physical changes in brain pathways caused by pain, knowledge which could lead to possible treatments, such as deep brain stimulation.

“Chronic pain can cause people’s lives to fall apart, leaving them isolated while still trying to get well,” she said

“If we can find new treatments, it could make a huge difference to people’s lives.”

Mr Batchelor said the work of researchers such as Dr Parr-Brownlie was of great importance to people such as him.

“It is hard to have a lot of hope that things will get better, so this type of research is fantastic,” he said.

The University of Otago Brain Health Research Centre is pleased to have researchers speak in the community. Any groups which would like to hear about Dr Parr-Brownlie’s research, or that of other researchers, are invited to phone Jane on 479-4066 to arrange a talk.