Can Nature Soothe Your Chronic Pain?
I find inspiration for my articles in surprising places. This article is about the importance of being in nature, nature that goes deeply to the heart of natural pain solutions. We look for natural treatments, perhaps that's what drew you to my webpage, and all products labelled natural. Subconsciously, do we know the importance of nature to our health and well-being? Can just being in nature or doing 'green exercise' be of use in the treatment of chronic pain and other chronic illnesses?
Healing Power Of Being In Nature
The surprising place for this article begins in the most beautiful place in New Zealand, Queenstown. Recently we were there on holiday, where I discovered the idea I'd like to share with you.
In our hotel room was a 'coffee table' book. Big glossy pages filled with amazing photography of snow-covered mountain peaks, 'Seeking the Light' by Gavin Lang. His introduction was an excerpt from the keynote address by Professor J A Thomson, given to the British medical Association in 1914 "Vix Medicatrix Naturae', that can be translated as the healing power of nature. Gavin also writes about his own pain story. I think it's extraordinary, finding this book, talking about the roots of my profession in naturopathic medicine, and also a reference to chronic pain, the roots of Natural Pain Solutions.
Naturopathic Medicine began in the 1800s in Germany. People such as Vincent Priessnitz, J.H. Rausse, Sebastian Kneipp and others, whose protocols had people walking barefoot in dewy grass, giving them water therapy and healing foods.
Surrounded By The Healing Energy Of Nature
Growing up in the English countryside, I guess I just took trees, fields and hedgerows for granted not aware of the energy or the ambience created by nature that surrounds us without paying very much attention. It was years later that I was to notice this natural ambience. In 2017 my husband and I were planning to move to Christchurch so we came for a holiday to finalise our decision. We were staying in a lovely place that overlooked Hagley Park. Hagley Park could be described as the 'Hyde Park' of Christchurch.
The first day we arrived we went walking through those enormous leafy trees getting our 'green exercise'. We talked about not quite being able to understand the different feelings we were experiencing. We figured out there was something different about being amongst so much greenery, especially as we had been living in Perth, Western Australia a very different natural environment.
Exercise - A Treatment For Chronic Pain
Over recent years exercise has been a key component of rehabilitation and chronic pain treatment. More research is being done on the benefits of green exercise though generally not the effect of nature on chronic pain. But research has found that the benefits to mental and physical health are more pronounced from exercising outdoors as opposed in exercising indoors (Shelby 2018).
Can Nature Relieve Pain
Now, I'd like to put more emphasis on the "green" rather than exercise viewing through that 'wide angle lens' of my Natural Pain Solutions philosophy.
Could just being in nature help our pain?
Just watching nature, being in nature, or just being around trees and green grass or mountains and lakes as in the New Zealand Southern Alps?
Natural Environment Of Western Australia
Now, a different type of natural environment. Some years ago I travelled around Western Australia when I worked as an Educational Kinesiologist, training teachers to use Brain Gym® activities in their classrooms. One trip took me to Tom Price, a mining town, in a very remote part of the state. From Perth I flew to Paraburdoo airport on a small plane where I had to wait for a bus to take me to Tom Price. While I was waiting I strolled around, there was only the airport and a couple of houses. There were few people around as those that journeyed up with me had all left. The place was quiet. The scenery was immense. There was so much space and a real true stillness. The countryside was flat, few trees. As you can imagine this is a different type of nature but still with that surrounding, indefinable feeling that can only be found when we surround ourselves with nature.
Barriers To Experiencing The Healing Power Of Nature
There can be barriers for some people spending time in nature, especially if you have chronic pain; in fact chronic pain makes a lot of things in life more difficult. Where you live at times may be too hot, too cold or too wet for exploring the green energy of nature or should I say just the energy of natural surroundings. It may be some distance from your home or you don't feel safe and today in our growing high-intensity living many of us don't even have a garden to walk around (Selby 2018).
But there are ways that you can use 'green therapy' for your chronic pain that perhaps you haven't thought about. Research by Lohr (2000) showed we could benefit when exposed to plants or simply viewing live plants. Below are some examples of how green nature therapy can help in hospital situations.
"Twenty-three surgical patients assigned to rooms with windows looking out on a natural scene had shorter postoperative hospital stays, received fewer negative evaluative comments in nurses' notes, and took fewer potent analgesics than 23 matched patients in similar rooms with windows facing a brick building wall." Ulrich (1984)
Zech (2019) found some interesting positive effects again in hospital setting. They showed that the more sterile views and environments of the hospital had a weakening effect on a muscle strength test, whereas the picture of nature on the operating room ceiling and a nature view out of the hospital window maintained muscle strength.
Self-help Techniques For Pain Relief
If you have pain on a regular basis I hope this article is giving some ideas of things you can try, either to relieve your pain or at least distract your mind and thoughts away from the pain for a time. Perhaps read this a few times or discuss it with a friend or your doctor, as pain doctor's know the value of treating the whole person. And if you come up with some good ideas - let me know - I'll pass them on and add them to my toolbox.
Here's the story of my first time of using 'flower therapy' at my pain clinic.
Waking Up In Pain - Every Day
One day a client and I were talking about the pain she felt every day when she woke up. So, I went outside my clinic and picked a bunch of flowers and brought them back into the room. I gave her these to take home and put in a vase beside her bed.
The idea behind this is when she woke up, the first thing she would see was the flowers; the healing power of nature. This not only helped her pain but she regularly got flowers from her garden or from that of her friend. Then she'd always have something pleasant, and distracting, beside her bed when she awoke. Some of the flowers were fragrant. The perfume added aromatherapy to the natural pain relief therapy, that soothing power of nature.
Even pictures of plants can still give us that feeling of nature. Thinking of pictures of nature I went outside to my garden. It seems the last three places I've lived there have always been those, easy to grow, abundant bright red geraniums. Here is a picture of some of those geraniums from my garden. And as for aromatherapy, I have in my clinic a phial of Rose Geranium essential oil. Although it's outside the scope of this article, aromatherapy or just the aromas of pleasant memories are also worth considering with your self-help for chronic pain relief.
Finally returning to green exercise. While I was writing this article I came across some green exercise in the UK. It's called Mind Over Mountain. It's a very interesting website and you can listen to their philosophy and perhaps if you're in the UK take the opportunity to go walking in the mountains.
They take groups of people to 'walk and talk' while spending time outdoors enjoying natural restoration.
Can Nature Help Those In Chronic Pain
Chronic pain is so prevalent and increasing worldwide that perhaps we need more creative solutions and imaginative ideas for those people living with chronic pain. Do we need more time in nature, more green therapy? Unlike where I live, much of the world is now sprouting more cities with disappearing green spaces. This could prove a problem for green exercise, the continued increasing numbers of people with pain but decreasing amount of green space to exercise or experience the healing power of nature.
I leave you with part of the speech made by Professor Thomson in 1914, over one hundred years ago, taken from Logan (2012)
".....we have put ourselves beyond a very potent vis medicatrix if we cease to be able to wonder at the grandeur of the star-strewn sky, the mystery of the mountains, the sea eternally new, the way of the eagle in the air, the meanest flower that blows....."
I've enjoyed putting this article together I hope you enjoy reading it. I've also had the opportunity to fill the page with pictures of flowers and natural settings.
If you'd like to connect with me to discuss your pain, check out my Pain-Less Journey
This article represents the thoughts and ideas of the author provided for information only and is not medical advise. Any pain you experience should be checked by a doctor.
Lohr V.I. & Person-Mims C. H. (2000). Physical Discomfort may be reduced in the presence of interior plants. Horttechnology 10(1) 53-58
Ulrich R.S. (1984). View through a window may influence recovery from surgery. Science (New York, N.Y.), 224(4647), 420-421. https://doi.org/10.1126/science.643402
Zech, N., Seemann, M., Grzesiek, M., Breu, A., Seyfried, T. F., & Hansen, E. (2019). Nocebo Effects on Muscular Performance - An Experimental Study About Clinical Situations.
Frontiers in pharmacology, 10,219.
Logan, A. C., & Selhub, E. M. (2012). Vis Medicatrix naturae: does nature "minister to the mind"? BiopschoSocial medicine. 6 (1), 11.
Mind Over Mountains
Seeking the Light: Climbing all 24 of New Zealand's Highest Mountains by Gavin Lang
Nature Doctors - Pioneers in Naturopathic Medicine