How horticultural, art and music therapy are used in physical rehabilitation

Physical Therapy and Rehab
Group of older people working with plants.

Painting with watercolors, watering plants or playing the piano may seem like activities for a leisurely Sunday afternoon. But for some, these activities aren't hobbies—they're part of their physical therapy treatment program.

"Physical therapy and rehabilitation programs are designed to treat symptoms—both temporary and long-term—as well as prevent future ones," says Mithra Maneyapanda, MD, physical medicine and rehabilitation physician at Bryn Mawr Rehab Hospital, part of Main Line Health. "It's used for anything from musculoskeletal injuries to osteoarthritis to chronic back pain to neurological conditions, like Parkinson's or stroke."

Traditional physical therapy might include guided exercises or stretches done in a hospital or healthcare practice setting. But horticultural, art and music therapy approach physical therapy in a different way.

Instead, horticultural, art and music therapy utilize gardening (like potting plants and arranging flowers), art (like painting and sculpting) and music (like singing) to ease symptoms and heal your body. And unlike traditional physical therapy, these forms of therapy are done in different locations, like outdoors or in an art studio.

In addition to being enjoyable ways to pass the time, these therapies are proven to alleviate pain, improve balance and enhance strength, among other benefits. Here's what each entails and how they can improve your physical well-being.

Horticultural therapy and physical rehabilitation

You might not have a green thumb, but with horticultural therapy, you don't have to. As a novice or veteran gardener—or somewhere in between—you can benefit from your time spent in the horticultural center.

Horticultural therapy, which takes place in a garden or greenhouse, involves activities such as:

  • Planting seeds
  • Watering or repotting plants
  • Arranging fresh flowers
  • Pressing dried flowers
  • Outdoor gardening (such as growing vegetables)

At Bryn Mawr Rehab, patients also take part in donating harvests to local food banks.

"If you've ever worked in a garden, you won't be surprised to hear that horticultural therapy can help you physically," says Dr. Maneyapanda. "Specifically, it can benefit your balance, mobility, endurance, strength, coordination and flexibility."

From the energy required to dig to the dexterity required to arrange flowers, the physical benefits of spending time in the garden are vast.

What's more, being outside can improve your mood, reduce stress and ease feelings of depression. And when you're working on a project with others, horticultural activities can combat feelings of isolation and help you feel more connected socially.

Art therapy and physical rehabilitation

If you've ever sketched, sculpted or painted, you know how good it can feel to create art. But what you might not have thought of is the physical benefits these activities can have.

Art therapy includes activities, such as:

  • Sketching, doodling or coloring
  • Painting
  • Making a collage
  • Molding and sculpting with clay
  • Taking photographs

While art therapy is often seen as a way to process your feelings and heal emotionally, it can also improve your physical health. It can ease pain, improve your posture and relieve stress and its physical effects, like inflammation. It can also give you an opportunity to use and strengthen parts of your body, like your limbs or fingers.

"Art therapy can also improve cognition by keeping your brain active and encouraging you to be creative. It can also improve your self-esteem and improve your communication skills," says Dr. Maneyapanda.

Music therapy and physical rehabilitation

Music—whether you listen to your favorite song or jam out on the guitar—is a surefire way to improve any bad mood. But it can also improve your physical ailments and improve your overall wellness.

Music therapy can include:

  • Listening to music
  • Playing an instrument
  • Songwriting
  • Performing music
  • Discussing lyrics to songs

"Music therapy can help a wide range of physical symptoms. It can reduce pain, improve sleep, ease shortness of breath, build strength and improve coordination and balance," says Dr. Maneyapanda. It can also relieve stress, which can lead to physical symptoms, like muscle tension and stomach problems.

The benefits of music therapy extend into cognition, as well, since playing and listening to music can help with communication and improve your ability to focus.

Using horticulture, art and music to heal your body

Physical therapy can heal your body and prevent future problems from occurring. Whether you're managing a lifelong illness or recovering from surgery or injury, improving your strength, mobility and endurance are key to getting better.

Horticultural, art and music therapy offer approaches to physical therapy that are a change of pace with the same benefits. What's more, they provide the opportunity to engage in an enjoyable activity—one that might become a life-long hobby.

Next steps:

Learn more about Mithra Maneyapanda, MD
Learn more about inpatient and outpatient rehabilitative therapy
Horticultural therapy offers benefits for physical rehab patients

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