Chronic pain is a significant health problem, affecting nearly 10 million Britons and leading to significant lost resources in terms of time off work and negative impact on quality of life. Chronic pain is particularly difficult to diagnose and treat because it is reliant on the patient being able to communicate their symptoms adequately and accurately to health professionals who in turn must be willing to listen and able to interpret these symptoms. While standard diagnostic tools rely on language to describe pain, there is widespread recognition that this is not always sufficient. The difficulties in translating pain into language exist in sufferers’ everyday lives as well, where family and friends misunderstand the experience of living with chronic pain. This project explores the gap between the experience and expression of chronic pain by examining non-verbal aspects of the pain experience: through body mapping; sound; spatial elements; social media; and technology.
The project involves three phases: an analysis of existing textual and non-textual pain expressions online, via social media sites including YouTube, Flickr, and Tumblr; a series of five workshops involving chronic pain patients, visual and performing artists, and clinicians working with chronic pain; and an evaluation phase where we look at the relative success of various non-verbal modes of pain communication, and what aspects of the experience of pain they make visible.