Thalassotherapy: It’s A Beach Thing

Dear Audy,

I’m kind of addicted to swimming in the sea. This addiction started back in December, when the days got warm enough for hitting the beach, and has continued because I’m experiencing a lot of health benefits for my efforts. Not all that surprisingly, humans have been playing with the health benefits of the ocean for centuries and have even named the practise “Thalassotherapy”.

Living in Australia can be pretty alright.

Living in Australia can be pretty alright.

Thalassotherapy is the practise of using sea water and shore climate to treat health ailments. Finally, I understand why the grandmother in Roald Dahl’s The Witches was prescribed an ocean holiday to assist her health…this is actually a thing. A thing that has been going on for a long time and has even been marketed into overpriced spa treatments for rich people.

I always thought that going to the beach improved my mood because it was just a fun thing to do, but it turns out that there might be more to it than that. I mean, watching an episode of Portlandia is also a fun thing to do, but I’m yet to notice it actively lowering my pain levels.

Poking around the internet, I have learnt that there are a couple of science-type explanations for why going to the beach could be helping me to feel better. Personally, reading about this sort of stuff is just gravy, if something makes me feel better it makes me feel better. I’ve been at this chronic pain game long enough to know that the scientific method can’t explain or prove everything….yet.

So far, this is what internet reported science has had to say about why going to the beach is helpful:

  • Sunshine! Vitamin D is integral to a healthily functioning human body. Here in Australia, fearing the sun has become common practise. The benefits of sunlight without sunburn seem to have been thrown out in the skin cancer panic. I wear sunscreen and I don’t go to the beach to tan my skin, however I definitely notice the positive difference to my mood and overall feeling of well being for having gotten some sun.
  • Seawater has lots of good stuff in it! That salty flavour includes magnesium, potassium, calcium, sodium and iodide – stuff that is soaked in through the skin and can be good for reducing inflammation and promoting healing.
  • Negative ions! Ok, maybe I don’t fully understand what a negative ion is, but what I do understand is that when I inhale a few deep breaths of fresh sea air, I feel all sorts of better. Apparently, ions are molecules in the air that have gained or lost an electrical charge. Moving water creates a bunch of negative ions that can have a mood lightening effect on those who breathe them in. You can read more about negative ions here, or hit the journals if you’d like more reputable information than me telling you I feel better.
  • Exercise! The human body is designed to move, plain and simple. Moving makes it function better and being in the ocean allows me to move in non-harmful ways that benefit my overall fitness level.
  • Relaxation! I really enjoy the beach. I just…really like it. Combining something that I really enjoy with managing my chronic pain feels like winning a jackpot. It’s much easier to muster up therapy motivation for an enjoyable activity than it is to motivate myself into exercise that is beneficial but terribly boring.
  • Lasting relief! That feeling of reduced pain and increased energy levels stays with me for long after I am out of the water. This is especially good to know on days that are going to be extremely hot or humid because an early morning dip can save me from a day of harsh weather flares. Slowly increasing my fitness levels also means that all other activities become that little bit easier.

  • Living with CRPS in all of my limbs makes exercising tricky. If my legs are flaring, I can’t handle anything that involves standing on them and that rules out most cardio. If my hands are flaring, I still experience increases in the pain from walking on my legs and I am also more likely to flare up in the lower regions if I’m already being pained by the upper regions.

    Building any sort of muscular strength is a delicate balancing act, but is also a necessary part of managing chronic pain. A weak body hurts more and is more easily injured. This is why when one thing goes wrong in a CRPS effected body, it can very easily lead to another problem and another problem because of the difficulty in regaining strength after any sort of setback. When it happens, it’s kind of like getting stuck in a loop of weakness.

    In the past, I’ve had some patchy success with undertaking hydrotherapy in an indoor pool. I found it easier to move without increasing pain whilst in the water and also enjoyed a lot of relief from the pain of gravity by using floatation devices. With regular visits, I was able to build up some core strength that helped to make other forms of exercise, like walking, more viable.

    Unfortunately, my body really struggles to cope with a pool environment. Such places are ridiculously humid and the water and air reek with chemicals. Both of those factors are conducive to increasing my pain and tend to undo a lot of the progress that I make in the water, before I even get back to the car.

    Several weeks ago, when I made that first beach trip of the Summer, something spectacular happened. Wading into the water provided instant relief for my burning limbs.

    I felt better, straight away. I can’t think of any words that could possibly explain how amazing such an experience was after six years of CRPS. It was a little bit like those few moments during my 10 day ketamine infusion when I felt painlessness and vowed to never give up my fight, only without the preceding days of hallucinogenic torture or the disastrous consequences.

    Once in the water, I was able to move around fairly freely and get into some of the exercises that I used to do in the hydrotherapy pool. Floating is a breeze in salt water and I was able to relax on my back and let the weightlessness and gentle swaying of the waves melt away my tension. The water was cool enough to bring about goosebumps, but not create a hindering chill.

    I felt free. I can’t remember another moment during my life with CRPS during which I can honestly say that I felt free.

    Chronic pain turns a person’s body into a sort of prison cell. Any activities are only undertaken by following the rules of the warden (CRPS). Permanent physical limitations can stifle freedom like no other oppression that I have even known (I’m a white Australian, so you know, pretty lucky in that regard).

    Feeling free is like feeling young again, feeling healthy. The best part is that this feeling stays with me throughout the rest of the day. The coolness of the water seems to penetrate my body and sit deeply enough that I actually continue to experience feeling better long after I have dried off.

    Naturally, I have been returning to the beach as often as I can handle. I’m careful not to push my energy levels too far, I try not to stay out too long and I mostly tread water and float around, but just doing that has been enough to kickstart some healing.

    It takes about 5-6 songs to drive to the beach from my house, so not all that far, but far enough to force me to pace out my visits and that’s probably a good thing. Without a distance buffer, I’d be in the water every day, which would either be awesome or just cause me to overexert myself. I’m only going to know which case is true after you buy me a beach house, or send me to a resort for a few weeks. So, you know, you should probably get on that as soon as possible. And thanks!

    Do you like going to the beach, Audy?

    Love & Bobbing Around,

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  • 3 thoughts on “Thalassotherapy: It’s A Beach Thing

    1. Jackie

      OMG I so miss the beach, we live an hour and a bit away now, but after reading your posts I am thinking of making the drive once a week just to be in the water, like you the pools are just to much with the humidity etc…… I cried with excitement that you were getting so much from the salt water :)

      1. Hayley Cafarella Post author

        Thanks so much, Jackie! I had spent years thinking that a trip to the beach would be too painful and exhausting, I’m still so excited to find out that the truth is the exact opposite of that! I hope that you are able to try a trip to the beach, I haven’t been for a few days and all I want to do is get back in the water 😉 xx

    2. Della

      I’m so way far behind again. I’m almost embarrassed to comment so late. It’s great to know that the beach made you feel so good! I haven’t tried that, since I’m quite a ways from the beach, and anyway the beach up here isn’t very nice. I Have felt that feeling of being FREE! I’ve had many more days of feeling free since starting LND. The winter hasn’t been easy, but the good days that I have relatively frequently lately are Amazing! I actually get the urge to take off running sometimes and believe I could actually do it, though I’d look kind of silly.

      Just realized while reading another of your posts that the Portlandia you referred to is the Portland right near me. I went to school there for a while.

      I hope you’re starting to feel better with the anticipation of Fall coming on! I’m feeling Spring fever lately as I hear the frogs begin to sing. You may have blogged whether or not you’re feeling better, but I’m not caught up yet. :) Love and hugs!!

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