Lessons from the Hive
By Dubuque Physical Therapy Team
May 11, 2022
Written by Ben Fern, PT, MPT, Clinic Director
One of the many questions you encounter as a beekeeper (other than “are you crazy?”) is “how often do you get stung?” The answer varies from beekeeper to beekeeper, depending on how much protective clothing you want to apply in the heat of the summer, but for me, the answer is “plenty”. Getting acquainted with the business end of a honeybee is never pleasant but it does offer numerous lessons. One lesson is that honeybees are going to find your weak spots. Some veils leave a tiny opening just under the chin if you don’t cinch it up quite tightly enough, but you can pretty much guarantee that a bee will find that opening. Another lesson is that is it is never a good thing when you feel sweat trickling up your leg.
While you would think getting stung is a bad thing, the more you dive deep into beekeeping, the more you learn that there are actually benefits to getting stung. Getting stung by a bee and being exposed to its venom creates a pretty strong immune system response. Oftentimes, as beekeepers are exposed to bee venom more frequently, their swelling response becomes less and less as their immune system gets a frequent “tune-up”.
Bees don’t just set out to sting people, it happens for a reason. Maybe I am moving too fast and being clumsy. Maybe I am squishing bees when moving frames of honeycomb around. Maybe I am entering the hive at a poor time (at night, or when it is raining). The bees oftentimes reveal my mistakes and make me move more slowly and with better concentration and focus so that I won’t get stung.
Pain from an injury is oftentimes like the pain from a bee sting. When we have back pain, our body will alert us when we are sitting too long, or lifting too much, or not resting enough, or not moving enough. Pain can act as an alarm that alerts us to when we are threatening our tissue with stresses that it cannot handle. As PTs, we work with our patients every day on how to work through our pain so that we respond to that alarm correctly. We respond to that “alarm” by doing specific exercises, working on specific muscles, or doing gradually increasing amounts of activity. We also are there to help identify situations when our pain “alarm” is acting in a manner that is too sensitive (chronic pain) and how to quiet that alarm, but that is a discussion for another day.