Can nature provide us a natural form of pain relief?
Nature has so much more to offer than just something nice to look at. Pain relief is just one small aspect of the vast benefits nature has to offer us! For example, research published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, focused on the effects of forest therapy on participants struggling with chronic widespread pain (Han, J. W., Choi, H., Jeon, Y. H., Yoon, C. H., Woo, J. M., & Kim, W., 2016). Forest therapy aims to reduce pain through specific physical activities and psychological approaches which take place in a natural environment. The participants in this study engaged in bodily exercises and mindfulness-based meditation in a forest while measuring physiological changes. The results showed that forest therapy was effective in improving the psychological and physiological symptoms associated with chronic widespread pain. This raises the question of whether there may be other ways that nature can provide us with pain relief.
Nature as a distraction
Photo from Andrea Blood
Distracting yourself by turning your attention away from pain and towards something else can be an effective way to manage pain. Nature-related stimuli are an especially effective form of distraction when it comes to pain relief. Nature-related stimuli can include sounds of nature like running water, birds chirping, rustling of leaves, etc. It also includes visuals of nature like looking at a nature scene, whether that be in person or virtually on television. Physically standing in nature and feeling the sun on your skin and the wind surrounding you can provide the exact distraction needed to draw attention away from any type of pain you may be experiencing. Studies have proposed that having a window view which overlooks nature can improve recovery after surgery and even increase pain tolerance (Kline 2009).
Water and Pain Relief
Photo from Sophia Mora-Fitzgerald
Water therapy is surprisingly effective in alleviating pain especially for those experiencing pain in the back, spine, and neck area. Submerging yourself in water takes the pressure off of those weight-bearing areas and provides pain relief for your joints. Water therapy is often used during labor and delivery for that reason as you have increased mobility in the water to find a position that works best when laboring. Warm water also helps reduce stress hormones, relax your muscles, and increase the release of endorphins which are our natural pain relievers. This technique can be used for different types of pain and at the very least can help your body and mind relax as pain can take a toll on you physically and mentally. One of the most ancient forms of water therapy and thermal medicine are hot springs. The Ancient Greeks believed the hot and sulphurous water of the hot springs could heal skin diseases and cure muscular and joint pain (Gianfaldoni, S., Tchernev, G., Wollina, U., Roccia, M. G., Fioranelli, M., Gianfaldoni, R., & Lotti, T., 2017). Even today, these practices still remain as many tourists flock to natural hot springs for both the physical and mental benefits they are said to contain.
Herbs and Spices
Herbs and Spices. (2017). CNN. https://www.cnn.com/2017/08/24/health/gallery/health-benefits-of-herbs-and-spices/index.html.
People have been using herbs and spices as natural painkillers since the beginning of time and although we have the luxury of modern medicine, not everyone has access and some people may prefer to try natural alternatives before heading to the pharmacy. Willow bark was used as a natural painkiller and fever reducer by chewing on the bark but is now more commonly sold as a dried herb which can be brewed like a tea for the same benefits. The side effects can be similar to those of traditional aspirin so it’s important to check with a doctor before consuming (WebMD). A study conducted in 2014 on herbal medicine for low-back pain used white willow bark on participants for pain relief. The study concluded that white willow bark reduced pain in participants more than the placebo they were given did (Oltean, H., Robbins, C., van Tulder, M. W., Berman, B. M., Bombardier, C., & Gagnier, J. J., 2014). Turmeric is a spice that is said to reduce inflammation and help with stomach pains associated with indigestion and ulcers. It contains the antioxidant curcumin which helps protect your body from damage to tissues and cells (Daily, J. W., Yang, M., & Park, S., 2016). A study from 2016 used turmeric extract on subjects with arthritis to see if there were any pain relieving benefits. The study concluded that participants who were given the extract over the course of 8-12 weeks saw similar improvements in pain relief as ibuprofen (Daily, J. W., Yang, M., & Park, S., 2016). As with willow bark, you should talk to your doctor before consuming it as a pain reliever.
CBD for Pain Relief
Tilman, R. (2020). Cbd Oil. Charlotte Stories. https://www.charlottestories.com/are-there-other-cannabinoids-found-in-cbd-oil-a-2021-guide-for-uk-cbd-consumers/.
CBD or cannabidiol, has seen a great rise in popularity as a natural form of pain relief. CBD is a chemical that is naturally occurring on the cannabis plant. Unlike THC or tetrahydrocannabinol, CBD does not make the user feel any type of “high”. A study conducted in 2016 used rats suffering from arthritis to test the effectiveness of CBD gel to relieve pain. Rats that received topically applied CBD gel had a reduction in pain and inflammation in their joints with no obvious side effects (Hammell, D. C., Zhang, L. P., Ma, F., Abshire, S. M., McIlwrath, S. L., Stinchcomb, A. L., & Westlund, K. N., 2016). It is important to note that there is very limited research on humans about the benefits of CBD, with inconsistent designs and very small samples. There is a possibility CBD could interfere with certain medications and or supplements so make sure to discuss with a doctor if you are interested in trying CBD.
How Does Nature Impact Our Wellbeing?
The Effects of Forest Therapy on Coping with Chronic Widespread Pain: Physiological and Psychological Differences between Participants in a Forest Therapy Program and a Control Group
Transdermal Cannabidiol Reduces Inflammation and Pain-Related Behaviours in a Rat Model of Arthritis