Intended for healthcare professionals

Feature Doctor-Patient Communication

What does chronic pain look like?

BMJ 2019; 365 doi: (Published 05 June 2019) Cite this as: BMJ 2019;365:l4035
  1. Penny Warren, freelance journalist
  1. London, UK
  1. penny.warren{at}

A visual approach aims to improve therapeutic dialogue between doctors and patients, writes Penny Warren

Juice drips as a knife enters a strawberry’s flesh. An electric cable bursts on a face. A drill hovers over a forehead. A new clinical tool uses such wince making visual representations of chronic pain to try to improve conversations between patients and their doctors. To prompt discussion, patients choose cards depicting metaphors that most accurately reflect their symptoms and feelings.

The set of 54 cards forms part of a project to investigate the value of visual imagery in the diagnosis and management of chronic pain, involving clinicians at University College London (UCL), a linguist, and a photographic artist.1 The interdisciplinary group has collaborated on several research projects and a film, Pain Under the Microscope, which explores perceptions of pain using footage of interviews with patients, clinicians, and researchers; …

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