Frida Kahlo: Portrait of chronic pain

Carol A. Courtney*, Michael A. O’Hearn, Carla C. Franck

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations

Abstract

The Mexican artist Frida Kahlo (1907-1954) is one of the most celebrated artists of the 20th century. Although famous for her colorful self-portraits and associations with celebrities Diego Rivera and Leon Trotsky, less known is the fact that she had lifelong chronic pain. Frida Kahlo developed poliomyelitis at age 6 years, was in a horrific trolley car accident in her teens, and would eventually endure numerous failed spinal surgeries and, ultimately, limb amputation. She endured several physical, emotional, and psychological traumas in her lifetime, yet through her art, she was able to transcend a life of pain and disability. Of her work, her self-portraits are conspicuous in their capacity to convey her life experience, much of which was imbued with chronic pain. Signs and symptoms of chronic neuropathic pain and central sensitization of nociceptive pathways are evident when analyzing her paintings and medical history. This article uses a narrative approach to describe how events in the life of this artist contributed to her chronic pain. The purpose of this article is to discuss Frida Kahlo’s medical history and her art from a modern pain sciences perspective, and perhaps to increase our understanding of the pain experience from the patient’s perspective.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)90-96
Number of pages7
JournalPhysical therapy
Volume97
Issue number1
DOIs
StatePublished - Jan 2017

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physical Therapy, Sports Therapy and Rehabilitation

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