Sensory digital tool helps chronic pain sufferers
People who endure regular pain are finding some relief after using an innovative map that helps them to create a ‘garden’ of their suffering.
This ‘Pain Garden’ aids patients to understand the overall impact of chronic persistent pain on their wellbeing and aids them in describing it to doctors, friends and relatives.
Created by Professor of Rehabilitation at Teesside University, Denis Martin; and Animmersion, a Teesside DigitalCity company, the Pain Garden is supported by Arthritis Research UK and allows people to link up the multi-dimensional aspects of the impact of pain on their lives.
By answering questions relating to emotion, sensory experience and wellbeing, a digital garden, accessed via a website, is grown that thrives or wilts as a patient’s health and wellbeing alters.
Professor Martin said: “People usually try to understand based on their past experiences. For example with toothache or headache you take a pill and it goes away. With chronic pain the pain doesn’t go away to any degree – it’s a different experience and it can be difficult for people to come to terms with.
A major problem for people with chronic pain is explaining it to others. You can’t see pain, which makes it difficult to appreciate what the person is going through. By helping clinicians, friends and relatives to understand the nature and impact of that pain, you help the patient
“Pain can be confusing for people as it runs alongside different emotions. They find it difficult to get this across. Getting people to understand what chronic pain impacts is important to help them deal with it.”
Development work on the Pain Garden began two years ago and is based on an extensive multi-dimensional questionnaire used in previous studies.
Patients found the questionnaire beneficial as it gave them a more-holistic view of their pain experience. Dr Martin and Annimersion explored how they could use the information gathered as the basis for developing the garden.
Professor Martin has worked in the area of chronic pain for around 20 years, first at Queen Margaret University College in Edinburgh and now at Teesside University.
He said: “People get a huge amount of benefit through linking emotions they often feel with their pain. For example, people may feel anxious and angry because of the pain they suffer – and tying that together has a positive impact on their wellbeing.
“We were looking for some way to make use of that and we came up with the idea for using animation and graphic design to illustrate the nature of pain and how it changes.
“The idea of a garden came about as pain has different dimensions: sensory, emotional and general wellbeing that can sit as well-defined items themselves - but they all link together.
“When you use the metaphor of a garden you have the garden as a whole, but also within it distinct elements like plants, trees and water features. When you put it all together you create the garden.
“With pain there are sensory, emotional and general wellbeing aspects that are discrete in themselves - put it together and you get the pain experience.”
Professor Martin had heard about the visualisation processes Annimersion was doing for other healthcare clients, so he approached DigitalCity to see if it could help in the development of the Pain Garden.
Managing director of Annimersion, Dominic Lusardi, said: “Professor Martin had the idea of being able to visualise pain. It is very subjective and hard to describe with words, so he came to us with the idea of a garden that was created by answers you gave to a questionnaire.
“In creating the garden different questions target different areas of wellbeing that exist within the garden. If you answer positively then that part of the garden will be flourishing. Likewise, if you’re feeling unwell on a certain area that part of the garden may be wilting – such as the ‘anger tree’ (pictured below).
With pain there are sensory, emotional and general wellbeing aspects that are discrete in themselves - put it together and you get the pain experience
“This garden means a patient’s experience of pain becomes something visual that those going through a similar experience can identify with.
“What we’ve tried to do is to define a visual language, a common language that people can understand to explain pain in a way that isn’t culturally specific.
“The other challenge was to establish what was in the minds of the clinicians working on this: how they wanted to receive and use the information.
”A major problem for people with chronic pain is explaining it to others. You can’t see pain, which makes it difficult to appreciate what the person is going through. By helping clinicians, friends and relatives to understand the nature and impact of that pain, you help the patient.
A Pain Garden user added: “The visual experience of the site was useful to see how pain was affecting me and it’s also a good way to show other people how it is affecting me.”