Communicating Chronic Pain Through Art

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Christian-Schole-Portrait-of-a-HeartAll images are from communicatingchronicpain.org – submissions from everyday sufferers. 

When I used to see a pain psychologist, she would often ask me to describe what my chronic pain would look like if it was visible – she was using a mindfulness technique that requires you to focus on your pain sensations. I never felt the words I used did it justice. And it’s the same when I try and describe what the pain feels like to friends and family – I say things like, it feels like my legs are on fire, that there are lots of little needles pressing into my skin and clamps on my hips forcing them together. I also suffer from allodynia (hypersensitivity) and its really hard to describe the horrible pain sensations I get from light touch/pressure and heat. I don’t feel my language is sufficient in showing what my pain really feels like. Communicating pain through art however, I think is a much more effective at helping non-sufferers understand. Art is incrediably powerful. Lets compare the statement ‘my chest is burning’ to the image above of a woman with a raging fire in her chest. The image conveys the severity of the pain that individual is feeling much more effectively than the words. Or the statement ‘I am in so much pain’ to the first image of a man’s head screaming in pain. I know which I think is more powerful…don’t you?! They do say that an image is worth a thousand words after all.
I believe using art would be a great way to develop and enhance chronic pain sufferers’ ability to communicate their pain not only to family members but to health professionals to help them understand rather than using language, which is very limiting, and very basic pain scales (scale of 1-10). Maybe next time I go to see my pain consultant i’ll take in a sketch with me and use that as a response when he asks me how I am doing with the pain. Have you ever expressed your pain through drawing, painting, sculpture or photography?

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22 Comments

  1. Jenny March 18, 2015 / 2:58 pm

    This is amazing! I think that the images are really helpful. I had no idea that this was an area of art! I think that it might be the most effective way of explaining pain that I have come across. I hope that, this becomes useful in helping you to communicate with health care professionals, and friends and family! Have a good day!

    Jenny x

    • spooniesophia March 26, 2015 / 2:56 pm

      Thank you Jenny! I am so glad you found this post useful. I think it will definitely be a tool I use in the future to communicate my pain. Hope you’re having a good day too x

  2. Hayley-Eszti March 18, 2015 / 4:12 pm

    These are stunning, I love abstract art too, they really put across what chronic pain is like artistically, love that!

    • spooniesophia March 26, 2015 / 2:57 pm

      I know…aren’t they just!? I have always been really into art, especially portraiture! I think it’s such a great way for people to express how they feel :)

  3. Donna // Fibro Geek March 18, 2015 / 4:57 pm

    Art is such a great way to express things and I am trying to do this myself with photography. It will probably take me a long time to achieve but I hope to create a series of self-portraits that convey life with chronic illness. Like you say, art is a great way to convey how you are feeling when putting it into words is a struggle

    • spooniesophia March 26, 2015 / 2:59 pm

      I think it’s great that you’re experimenting with using photography to express how you feel. I would be very interested in seeing those self-portraits when you have finished. Well done you Donna!

  4. Berta Karaim March 18, 2015 / 8:49 pm

    What an interesting post! Despite not suffering chronic pain, I’ve realised how limiting language is in describing pain, as well as other feelings, such as tiredness. However, I’ve never thought of using art as a means of communication! :)

    • spooniesophia March 26, 2015 / 3:00 pm

      I don’t think it is used enough to be honest Berta as it can be such a powerful tool! I hope you find some use out of it too x

  5. MiniChic March 19, 2015 / 4:19 am

    What a wonderful post. I have just started using art therapy to help me process my chronic pain. I paint “pain pictures”. It’s a great way to explore one’s self and redirect the energy.

    Thank you

    • spooniesophia March 26, 2015 / 3:03 pm

      Thank you so much. That’s amazing, I would love to see those. Have you posted them online lovely? x

      • MiniChic March 27, 2015 / 6:36 pm

        I haven’t yet but I plan to soon.

  6. Rosie March 19, 2015 / 9:41 am

    I use art journalling to communicate my pain, mental and physical. You can see it here …. atcexchange.blogspot.com

    • spooniesophia March 26, 2015 / 3:06 pm

      That’s fab Rosie! I will definitely take a look :)

  7. emmafarrellblog March 19, 2015 / 1:19 pm

    This is such a beautifully written post Soph and really resonated with me <3, I'm definitely going to share it with my friends and family to describe my own chronic pain as I find it difficult to share or to explain. I wish so much that when I was studying to be a physiotherapist we had been given the opportunity to study something like this or have a talk from someone who communicated their pain in this way as I think I would have understood it so much better and would have been able to show much more empathy to the pain and suffering my patients had and often struggled to put into words.
    Well done on writing such a wonderful post <3, lots of love as always. Take care of yourself, hugs!!

    • spooniesophia March 26, 2015 / 3:09 pm

      Thank you so much Emma! I really hope that in showing your friends and family they can gain a better understanding of what you go through.
      I totally agree, it would be amazing if health professionals were educated on chronic pain using art as well as language!
      Sending you lots of love and hugs too sweetie! Hope you’re recovering from the procedures xxx

  8. Elizabeth March 19, 2015 / 6:36 pm

    I very rarely leave comments online, yet this post resonated. It seems like you are discovering the power of therapeutic art-making and I love it! Have you considered seeing an Art Therapist, maybe in addition to your current treatment plan since you seem to benefit a lot from your current relationship? There is some pretty cool new research on Art Therapy being helpful for people with chronic pain. Most of what I have seen is in academic journals where you need a subscription to access them, but there is lots of good stuff out there. The American Art Therapy Association’s website (http://www.arttherapy.org/) might be a good place to find someone.
    Also, I promise I’m not some advertising/public relations person, even though my comments above make it sound like it. I’m an Art Therapy student who just finished a paper on Art Therapy and pain management. It sounds like something that could hopefully be very helpful. I hope you find something that works and others do as well!

    • spooniesophia March 26, 2015 / 3:11 pm

      Thank you for your comment Elizabeth! I have thought about seeing an art therapists, the only thing is, is that I am very poorly too with other symptoms that prevent me from concentrating so drawing/painting etc would be difficult for me at the moment. But it is something I hope to try in the future as I absolutely love art.
      I will definitely check out that website, thank you for the info.
      If your paper is online I would love to have a read?
      Good luck with your studies!

  9. The Person Next to You March 20, 2015 / 2:49 pm

    On top of other chronic issues, I have a heart problem. There are days that this would be a perfect representation of how my heart feels!

    • spooniesophia March 26, 2015 / 3:13 pm

      sorry to hear about your heart problem <3 I hope you can maybe use that image to convey to others how you are feeling sometimes.

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