Chronic non-cancer pain - unlike acute pain, which can be regarded as a symptom of disease or injury - is gaining recognition as a disease in its own right. It is a burden for the individual sufferer that has a severe impact on physical and social functioning. Chronic back pain, in particular, is a highly prevalent condition that has a considerable economic impact on society. However, treatment approaches for severe chronic non-cancer pain differ widely. The CHANGE PAIN initiative aims to enhance the understanding of patients who suffer from severe chronic pain and to improve pain management. The following special supplement, consisting of 10 commentaries, describes the proceedings from the first international Expert Meeting of the CHANGE PAIN initiative, which was held in Rome on June 20th and 21st, 2010.