Feast your eyes (and ease your aching back) on art

The Times

Jack Malvern

Gerry Gajadharsingh writes:

 “Pain is complicated, especially chronic (long term) pain. Whilst there are local causes of pain, i.e. an inflamed hip joint, often the ongoing source of pain is to do with central nervous system sensitisation. Finding ways to break the loop of this “hard wiring” of the nervous system is usually very helpful in chronic pain. There are often multiple factors involved and so-called psychosocial factors are high on the list, despite many patients not wanting to recognise this. Whilst standing and walking for long periods can certainly aggravate many people with chronic pain such as bad backs and hip pains (and ironically walking around art exhibitions can be one of them), the enjoyment and benefit of culture and pleasure has a positive effect on pain management.

The article below supports the findings of a British ten-year study published last month which found that people who engaged in cultural activities were less likely to experience chronic pain than their peers. This study found evidence that psychosocial factors may be protective against the development of chronic pain, in particular engagement in cultural activities such as going to museums, art galleries, exhibitions, concerts, the theatre or the opera.

Interestingly, the odds ratios for cultural engagement were directly comparable with those of vigorous physical activity, suggesting a reduction of 25-26 per cent in risk of chronic pain incidence. Even if visiting an art exhibition is not your thing, finding activities that have a cultural engagement seems to be very beneficial.”

Bad back? Arthritis? Dodgy hip? Cheer up, a novel pain relief could be on the way in the form of a visit to an art gallery or a night at the opera, according to a group of health scientists.

A pilot study by researchers at the University of California’s School of Medicine found that a trip to a gallery had an analgesic effect on patients suffering from chronic pain.

The 56 patients who took part in the study were interviewed about their pain before and immediately after a visit to the Crocker Art Museum in Sacramento and then three weeks afterwards. Fifty-seven per cent reported pain relief during their guided tour and a small number said that going on additional tours or joining art-based groups had a longer-term effect.

There was no indication that any works were more effective than others. The Sacramento collection includes art by Georgia O’Keeffe, the American best known for painting flowers that resemble genitalia, and the German Renaissance artist Albrecht Dürer.

The study had its limitations. There was no control group that indulged in any other kind of outing and the levels of pain were based on a survey of the patients rather than any objective measure. However, it supports the findings of a British ten-year study published last month which found that people who engaged in cultural activities were less likely to experience chronic pain than their peers.

Daisy Fancourt, a senior research associate at University College London who led the British report, wrote: “This study found evidence that psychosocial factors may be protective against the development of chronic pain, in particular engagement in cultural activities such as going to museums, art galleries, exhibitions, concerts, the theatre or the opera.

“It is notable that the odds ratios for cultural engagement were directly comparable with those of vigorous physical activity, suggesting a reduction of 25-26 per cent in risk of chronic pain incidence.”

The study concluded that both vigorous exercise and cultural activity were more effective than moderate exercise.

Other studies have found that being overweight is one of the biggest factors in chronic pain, but dieting is a difficult remedy because it is so unenjoyable.

Teresa Bigand, of Washington State University College of Nursing, examined nine large studies from various countries. “Essentially, weight loss is the best thing to do,” she told the Pain News Network. “However, some patients aren’t quite ready for that. Patients with the highest and most severe levels of pain intensity struggle the most to lose weight.

“In those cases, we have to think about how we can help patients get their other symptoms under control that might be exacerbating the pain before we can start thinking about treating their overweight or obese status.”

The California study concluded that guided tours in art galleries “are a feasible intervention that may provide relief from perceived social disconnection and pain”.

Participants told researchers that they enjoyed a sense of inclusion by being involved in the gallery tour that contrasted with the stigma and isolation of conventional treatment.

The researchers wrote: “Socially based interventions for individuals with chronic pain supported by healthcare organisations . . . may help to mitigate not only the experience of isolation, but also the distressing associations that many individuals with chronic pain have with the healthcare system.”

2018-09-10T13:10:56+00:00