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Virtual garden helps patients describe chronic pain

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People who endure chronic pain are benefiting from an innovative project that sees them create a virtual garden to help describe their symptoms to doctors and nurses.

Patients use the online Pain Garden, which features plants, trees and water features, to illustrate how they are feeling.

The concept, which has been funded by Arthritis Research UK, was dreamt up by chronic pain expert Denis Martin, Professor of Rehabilitation at Teeside University.

“A major problem for people with chronic pain is explaining it to others”

Dominic Lusardi

The garden was then brought to life by Animersion, a company established as part of Teeside’s DigitalCity initiative to create new digital businesses.

Patients answer questions about their emotions, physical symptoms and overall wellbeing – which influence how different parts of the garden grow.

If they give a positive response, then that part of the garden will thrive but if they are feeling unwell or are in a lot of pain then areas of the garden will wilt.

Professor Martin said the technique helped build up a rounded picture of someone’s experience, tying together emotions like anger and fear with the pain itself.

“People can get a huge amount of benefit from linking emotions they often feel with their pain,” he said.

“We were looking for some way to make use of that and came up with the idea of using animation and graphic design to illustrate the nature of pain and how it changes.”

One of the aims was to help people describe pain to healthcare professionals.

“A major problem for people with chronic pain is explaining it to others,” said Dominic Lusardi, managing director of Animersion.

“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.”

Disturbing plant

A “disturbing plant” in the virtual pain garden

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