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The Healing Effect of Plants on Pain

The latest science on the therapeutic effect of horticulture on chronic pain.

Key points

  • Spending time with plants and in nature may help reduce the intensity of persistent musculoskeletal pain and fibromyalgia.
  • Several studies have shown that short nature experiences impact our physiological wellbeing, including forest bathing.
  • You can connect with nature by taking walks outdoors or bringing plants into your home.

We all know that being in different environments changes how we feel, but have you ever wondered why you feel so at peace when immersed in nature? And why does it seem that body aches and pains are not as bothersome when surrounded by plants? We sought to answer this question.

Gardening During the Pandemic

Since the start of the pandemic, it seems so many are turning to simpler pastimes, including gardening, going for walks, and reimagining the space inside their homes. Through this time, many have cultivated a new fondness for plants, both indoors and outdoors. Those who had a green thumb advanced their foray into gardening.

 Gary Paduana, used with permission
Pay attention to the small details in nature, including smells and sounds.
Source: Gary Paduana, used with permission

Plants and Pain

Whether we are putting our hands into the soil or simply admiring the growth of an indoor plant, gardening and time spent outdoors in nature are arguably some of our most relaxing activities. They help us cope with the stresses of pandemic life and find balance amongst our daily hassles. But spending time with plants and in nature may also help reduce the intensity of persistent musculoskeletal pain and fibromyalgia.

Plants Are Healing

Physical activity, which is known to assist with pain management, now includes lifestyle activities such as gardening. When people with fibromyalgia complete a total of 30 minutes of gardening or other lifestyle physical activities throughout their day, their pain and physical functioning improve. Adding gardening to other treatments has also been shown to help people with back pain feel better, both physically and mentally. Shinrin-yoku, or forest bathing, is the practice of taking in the forest atmosphere, which has been shown to lower blood pressure, lower cortisol, and lower the body’s nervous system stress response. Several studies have shown that even short nature experiences impact our physiological wellbeing, and forest bathing helps reduce modern-day stress.

While there is still much to learn about the neurological effects of horticulture in people with pain, here is what we can do today:

  • Mindful Observation. Simply look outside and focus intently on a particularly unique tree, while studying its colors, shape, and movement.
  • Nature Walk. Try “forest bathing” by taking a short stroll through a park or wooded area, paying attention to the smells and sounds.
  • Bring Nature Indoors. Select a special plant to bring into your home, and obtain the air-purifying benefits they bring as well as the opportunity to enjoy caring for it and observing its growth.
  • Plant Seeds. Flowers, vegetables, and herbs alike make for fruitful endeavors in the garden, and can be enjoyed as a solitary activity or with others.
  • Raised Beds and Tools. Using raised garden beds can provide a more ergonomic gardening experience; kneeling pads, gardening stools, wagons, and retractable hoses reduce straining and support proper body mechanics.
  • Pacing Activities. Mindfully break when needed, before pain levels spike.
Gary Paduana, used with permission
Note color and shape variations despite similarities.
Source: Gary Paduana, used with permission

These nature experiences can help with pain in times of great stress and beyond. Basking in the wonder and beauty of nature brings healing and joy, and with enough practice can even provide literal fruits of your labor.


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World Health Organization, T. (2010). Global recommendations on physical activity for health. World Health Organization.

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Roren, A., Nguyen, C., Lefevre-Colau, M. M., Rannou, F. (2020 abstract). Therapeutic Effects of Horticulture on Anterior Cingulate Cortex Activation in People With Chronic Low Back Pain (HORTICARE). NCT04656158. Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials, 12.