Sunday, October 12, 2014

Health Issue Week 7 - Chronic Pain

Some years ago, I had a patient call me, wanting to share the experience she received just by looking at a photography displayed in the corridor at the hospital I work for. The picture is of an analemma by Masayuki Shiraishi.   By superimposing all the photographs taken of the sun at the same time each day – subtracting an hour as needed for Daylight Saving Time – the resulting figure-8 or the shape of infinity also known as an analemma.   See Figure 1, a sample photograph of Arizona desert by Frank Zullo 

Figure 1 - Photographer: Frank Zullo
 The patient crying with joy and hope in her voice told me that she has had chronic pain for the last 4 years. She had tried everything and is now at the last straw where she had to seek help through Stanford Hospital. As she was leaving the hospital, she saw this photograph of an infinity shape. That photograph gave her hope because she “knew there must be a God if the sun rotated in the shape of infinity. There is no way we are on this earth by chance.”  She continued to share that she was ready to end her life that day until she saw this photo, and had to thank the people involved in curating this art piece for the hospital.  I still remember this phone call every time I think of patients with Chronic Pain.

After some preparation and incubation of creating a new arts program for patients with Chronic Pain, I finally came to the illumination stage. Recently, knitting has become extremely popular in the Silicon Valley. Groups of ladies with their knitting needles and yarns are popping up everywhere –in the coffee shops, libraries, parks, community centers, and churches.  After approaching donors about the idea of starting a knitting program for Chronic Paint Patients, I received my validation two weeks ago. We now have funding that could keep the knitting program running for the next 10 years. I am proud to say that we are launching the knitting program on October 21, 2014. 

Benefits of Knitting:

In Betson Corkill’s presentation, she gave a list of psychological benefits to knitting. “Distraction, provides purposeful occupation and structure, enables contribution, calming, motivating, relaxing, raises mood, facilitates visualization, increases personal space, gives a sense of belonging, mastery of a skill, raises self esteem, gives feeling of control, breaks into negative thought patterns, reduces feelings of bitterness, encourages looking forward, fun, play and laughter.” What I found most value for the Chronic Pain patients is that knitting can “control the anticipation of pain.” Why knitting? Betson argues that “the hand movements are important. They are bilateral, rhythmic, and automatic. It [knitting] enables us to develop creative thought within a safe framework. Its portability can be used any time; anywhere to manage panic, anxiety attacks.” (Corkill)

“Carrie Barron, a psychiatrist with the Columbia College of Physicians and Surgeons and a knitter, lauds handiwork as a tool for alleviating anxiety and depression. Her husband, Alton Barron, orthopedic surgeon and president of the New York Society for Surgery of the Hand, says knitting can prevent arthritis and tendinitis.” (Daily)

(2014) Pain Community Centre. Retrieved from:
Betsan Corkill was a physiotherapist, who now runs Stitchlinks, a support network for those who enjoy the therapeutic benefits of crafts particularly knitting (a bilateral rhythmic psychosocial intervention).

(2014) The Daily Gazette: Knitting making a comeback, seen as relaxing, therapeutic Retrieved from:

Additional Resource:

Riley, J, Corkhill B, Morris, C. (2013). ‘The benefits of knitting for personal and social wellbeing in adulthood: findings from an international survey’, The British Journal of Occupational Therapy, 76:2, 50-57(8)

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