As there is no objective test for pain, sufferers rely on language to communicate their pain experience. Pain description frequently takes the form of metaphor; however, there has been limited research in this area. This study thus sought to extend previous findings on metaphor use in specific pain subgroups to a larger, heterogeneous chronic pain sample, utilizing a systematic method of metaphor analysis.
Conceptual metaphor theory was utilized to explore the metaphors used by those with chronic pain via qualitative methodology.
An anonymous online survey was conducted which asked for the descriptions and metaphors people use to describe their pain. Systematic metaphor analysis was used to classify and analyse the metaphors used into specific metaphor source domains.
Participants who reported chronic pain completed the survey (N = 247, age 19–78, M = 43.69). Seven overarching metaphor source domains were found. These were coded as Causes of Physical Damage , Common Pain Experiences , Electricity , Insects , Rigidity , Bodily Misperception , and Death and Mortality .
Participants utilized a wide variety of metaphors to describe their pain. The most common descriptions couched chronic pain in terms of physical damage. A better understanding of pain metaphors may have implications for improved health care communication and provide targets for clinical interventions.