Number 5 in our countdown of '70 Ways Art Improves Our Health' highlights art’s role in identifying and easing pain…

Managing pain is a major part of our healthcare. The negative effects of unmanaged pain lead to a noticeable decrease in both medical and psychological outcomes for patients.

But people with pain often remark that they find their experiences beyond words. This makes it very difficult for patients and clinicians to communicate about pain, and runs the risk of patients being under-treated. This can contribute to feelings of isolation and despair.

So where to turn?

We already know that both drawing and painting have been found to be an effective way for people with pain to express their level of suffering or the type of pain they are experiencing. This can take the form of art therapy.

“Without realising, I spent an hour screenprinting. And only after I realised I'd forgotten my back pain.”

Participant in a Paintings in Hospitals creative activity

However, the role of art in pain management is not limited simply to improving communication between patient and doctor.

A study this year found that a short bedside visual art activity (learning a new art technique over 30 minutes) effectively boosted patients’ mood and improved their pain levels.

This is not the first time art has been seen to help reduce perceived levels of pain. In 1999 a study found that levels of pain and stress decreased in people who had blood taken in a room with visual art compared to those in a room with no visual art.

And in 2003, another study found that patients took 70mg less painkilling medication per day when arts were introduced into the care environment, compared to patients in a care environment with no arts.

These initial studies suggest that art can not only play an important part in properly identifying pain and the required treatment but that it can also play a part in reducing the pain itself. This could not only offer savings for the health service but provide a better patient experience and improved quality of life for the people in pain.

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