Pain Reduction from Nature Imagery


Imagine you’re in the hospital, about to go through [insert troubling operation here].

Are you picturing fluorescent lights? White, sterile surroundings? Who would want to be there in any circumstance?

What if, instead, you were wheeled through a bamboo forest, transferred to a bed of flowers, with a beautiful sky overhead? Imagine that because of this, you actually felt less pain. How amazing would that be!?

Okay, this is my thing, so I get excited. But there is also real evidence for this! Nature imagery helps people before, during, and after medical procedures.


Take for example a study using nature distraction therapy with patients undergoing flexible bronchoscopy.

A flexible bronchoscopy involves a little bendy tube with a camera on the end that goes down your throat to check out your lungs. You'd get some sedatives for relaxation, and a numbing throat spray, but you'd still be somewhat alert throughout.

Depending on what's wrong, the doctors may take tissue samples or use other instruments to remove objects, growths, place an airway stent, or even give radiation therapy.

Needless to say, the process and recovery can involve some pain.

In the study, patients were provided a giant nature mural on the ceiling that they could see throughout the procedure, and were given headphones playing nature sounds. They were not told what the study was about.

They were later asked to rate various aspects of the experience. After adjusting for all our fun differences like gender, age, race, education, etc., patients with the nature distractions showed a significant reduction in pain.


But don’t just take one study’s word for it. There are tons of studies showing the benefits of nature imagery on patients. A sampling:

  • 2003 - Adults in a procedure room with nature scenes and sounds noted better pain control.
  • 1992 - Burn patients had less pain intensity, and lower anxiety when exposed to murals.
  • 2003  - Underwater scenes helped breast cancer patients lower stress and feel less tired during chemo.
  • 2002  - Pain threshold and tolerance went up in a Hong Kong study when a soundless nature video was shown.
  • 1990 - Nature scenes lowered the blood pressure of patients about to go through surgery.

Not to mention of course the landmark 'windows' study by Dr. Uhlrich in 1984, which you might remember from a previous blog by yours truly.


This healing effect of nature imagery is why I do what I do. My Healing Art Cart program lets patients choose photos for their hospital rooms. Each piece features subject matter that has been shown to reduce stress and positively impact health outcomes.  Pain management is a big one, but it's not alone - check out the Evidence-Based Art page for a bunch more.

So, like Eddie Izzard's bit, "Cake or death?"  ("Um, cake please."), you can now ask your patients, "Pain or less pain?" Um, right. Less pain then. Get in touch today for help choosing the right images for your healing space.