‘Art Rx’ Museum Tours Relieve Chronic Pain

By Pat Anson, Editor

A small pilot study by researchers at the University of California, Davis has uncovered a novel way of temporarily relieving chronic pain: Visit an art museum.

The Crocker Art Museum in Sacramento hosted a series of “Art Rx” private tours for 56 patients with chronic pain. The one-hour tours were designed not to be physically challenging and to encourage participants to talk with each other about the artwork they were seeing --- not just silently view it.

Patients were surveyed about their pain before and immediately after the docent-led tour, as well as three weeks later.

The study findings, published in the journal Pain Medicine, found that over 57 percent of the patients reported a decrease in their pain levels during the tour.

“So we get there, and I’m already in pain, but truly we were having this discussion and I just wasn’t thinking about it. I was having a good time,” one patient said.

“(Art Rx) took my mind elsewhere,” said another. “Physically I still have pain, but I feel good mentally, and I think part of my pain lessens when I feel good mentally.”



For some, the pain relief lasted for weeks. Several patients noted that the tours made them more aware of how their pain made them socially and emotionally isolated, so they took steps to increase their social interaction. Some met socially with Art Rx participants they met during the tours or joined an art-based community group.

“If you’re involved and doing things with people, you’re not shut in; you’re not focused on the pain,” one participant said.

“If anything it drives home for me how important it was to make sure that I get out," said another. "In a way, it should be an aspect of my health regime.”

“(Participants) found Art Rx to be, among other things, inclusive, validating, and socially engaging. These qualities stood in stark contrast to the isolating nature of chronic pain described in their personal histories and the negative encounters many of them had with the health care system,” wrote lead author Ian Koebner, PhD, a professor at the School of Medicine, University of California, Davis.

“Socially based interventions for individuals with chronic pain supported by health care organizations, such as Art Rx, may help to mitigate not only the experience of isolation, but also the distressing associations that many individuals with chronic pain have with the health care system.”  

The UC Davis findings are similar to those reported recently in a large 10-year study of over 2,600 healthy older adults in England. Researchers found that participants who attended museums, concerts, art galleries and other cultural activities were significantly less likely to develop chronic pain as they grew older.

The "Art Rx" tours at the Crocker Art Museum began in 2014 and are held every other month at no cost to the public. For more information, click here.