Article Text

Download PDFPDF
Sharing the pain: an observational analysis of Twitter and pain in Ireland
  1. Cormac Francis Mullins1,
  2. Robert ffrench-O'Carroll1,
  3. Justin Lane2 and
  4. Therese O'Connor3
  1. 1 Department of Anaesthesiology, Intensive Care and Pain Medicine, Saint James's Hospital, Dublin, Ireland
  2. 2 Department of Anaesthesiology, Intensive Care and Pain Medicine, Beacon Hospital, Dublin, Ireland
  3. 3 Department of Anaesthesiology, Intensive Care and Pain Medicine, Sligo University Hospital, Sligo, Ireland
  1. Correspondence to Dr Cormac Francis Mullins, Saint James's Hospital, Dublin D08 NHY1, Ireland; cormacmullins1{at}


Introduction Studies involving Twitter and chronic pain can provide highly valuable patient-generated information. The aim of this paper was to examine pain-related tweets in Ireland over a 2-week period from 22 June 2017 to 5 July 2017 using pain-related keywords. We wished to identify Twitter user gender profile; most common discussion topics; sentiment analysis; and dissemination of tweets.

Methods A third-party data analytics company conducted a Twitter social media analysis over a randomly chosen 14-day period between the dates 22 June and 5 July 2017. All relevant keywords were included in the search. Author group consensus yielded 24 terms. Geographical location was restricted to Ireland. A computational sentiment dictionary was used to provide a rating of the emotional properties of the text on a 9-point scale from −5 to +4 of negative to positive sentiment. Dissemination was calculated by the number of times the tweet was displayed (‘impressions’).

Results There were 941 tweets identified during the study from 715 contributors. These generated 2.88 million impressions. The most frequently occurring keywords were headache (n=321); migraine (n=147); back pain (n=123); cannabis (n=114); and chronic pain (n=85). There were 1.94 times as many tweets from females as males. The highest proportion of tweets from female users was in the fibromyalgia (83%) and migraine (60%) categories; and from males in the sciatica (35%), chronic pain (34%) and back pain (32%) categories. Cannabis-related tweets reflected mostly non-personal content (90%), with a highly positive sentiment, and the highest number of impressions per tweet. The largest amount of advice was offered in the back pain category. Reposting of other users’ content (‘retweets’) was more likely to contain a positive sentiment.

Conclusion A substantial discussion of pain-related topics took place on Twitter during our study period. This provided real-time, dynamic information from individuals on discussion topics in pain medicine. This can be used to gain a greater understanding of the pain experience. As patients are increasingly acquiring healthcare information through online sources, high-quality information from approved sources should be promoted on such platforms.

  • chronic pain
  • pain management
  • complementary therapies
  • epidemiology
  • technology

Statistics from

Request Permissions

If you wish to reuse any or all of this article please use the link below which will take you to the Copyright Clearance Center’s RightsLink service. You will be able to get a quick price and instant permission to reuse the content in many different ways.


  • Twitter @cormac_mullins

  • Contributors CFM and RF-OC were involved in data collection, data analysis, presentation of data and revision of manuscript. JL and TOC were involved in conception and design of the study. All authors were involved in drafting and approval of the manuscript.

  • Funding The authors have not declared a specific grant for this research from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Patient consent for publication Not required.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

  • Data availability statement Data are available upon reasonable request. The data that support the findings of this study are available on request from the corresponding author (CFM).