Many of the treatments for chronic pain can call for significant investments in time, energy, money and commitment, all of which, for those living with Chronic Pain, are often in short supply.
But sometimes something strikingly simple
can pay major dividends.
How does looking out the window or a trip to the local park sound? No specially trained healthcare professionals or cutting-edge technology needed.
Green space, from putting a few houseplants in your home or office, to spending some quality time in your very own backyard to going on that next family vacation at the seashore, watching the waves roll in, these have all been shown….
to positively benefit our health, specifically beneficial for pain and too, many of the comorbid health concerns that accompany or even trigger Chronic Pain.
The Medical Benefits of Plants, Green Space and Mother Nature
*Plants in the rooms of hospital patients in Norway have been shown to help them by lessening pain and anxiety and also shortening their hospitalization stay.
*Patients with pain who participated in Horticultural Therapy (Horticultural Therapists work with landscape architects to create therapeutic gardens, “purposefully designed to facilitate interaction with the healing elements of nature”) experienced an increase in mental and physical health, which equates improved pain management.
*Gardening activities have also been shown to positively impact depression. Gardening helps to reduce the severity of depression and too, these positive effects last months afterwards so, if you live in a climate where gardening is a seasonal activity, never worry, you have enough “money in the bank” to hold you over until those first few crocus’ poke their heads up again.
*Nature can have a rehabilitating effect. Various studies have found that time spent in nature has a significant ability to help people through periods of recovery from discomfort to trauma, both physical and emotional, including something as severe as Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome (PTSD). All of these are conditions those living in constant pain are frequently quite familiar with.
*Dr. Kristen Malecki, assistant professor of population health sciences at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health, found in their research that, “Higher levels of green space were associated with lower symptoms of anxiety, depression and stress….If you want to feel better, go outside.”
*Finally, Attention Restorative Therapy (ART) has found that mental fatigue and the ability to concentrate are improved by time spent in nature or even looking at nature (as in looking out the window). As we know, the ability to focus and concentrate drops drastically with Chronic Pain, making ordinary tasks like keeping up with your medical bills or focusing during a trip to the grocery store extremely challenging.
Defining “Green Space”
Depending on your condition, financial situation and living arrangements there are various ways to get plants and nature into your life.
Houseplants are an easy and comforting place to start, caring for the plants in and of itself is a fine Chronic Pain management technique and coping skill. Caring for living things, plants included, is “effective in causing attitude changes and increasing perceptions of self-image, pride, and ability to succeed“.
Gardening has also been shown to help in those same ways plus, and obviously, affording an individual a rewarding method of getting some exercise, especially for those with physical limitations.
Going to the park can also be an important part of your pain management routine. Time at your local park has been shown to help people manage their stress, including that related to chronic illness and disability. “Stress can affect people’s perceptions of their well-being, causing them to have diminished mental health.” And, of course, there is the benefit of the physical exercise and social interactions that come along with a trip to the park.
As mentioned above, a special type of park, known as a Therapeutic Landscape, is becoming increasingly popular, offering restorative and health sustaining properties to the general public but designed specifically to help those with significant health problems.
“What makes a garden therapeutic? The basic features of a therapeutic garden can include wide and gently graded accessible entrances and paths, raised planting beds and containers, and a sensory-oriented plant selection focused on color, texture, and fragrance. ” ~ The American Horticulture Association. A great list of them, found across the United States, can be found here.
And then of course there’s just the great and vast outdoors, from right in your own backyard to open spaces and National Parks. The possibilities are limitless but, with intent, so apparently are the health benefits, our old friend pain included.
So, as your mother used to say, “Go outside and play.”