Swimming in cold water may provide instant pain relief, according to medical experts in the journal BMJ Case Reports.
The case study in question involved a 28-year-old man who suffered from chronic pain 10 weeks after a surgical procedure that curbed his excessive facial flushing. While the surgery was successful, doctors found that the usual postoperative prescription painkillers had no effect on the man. The researchers claimed that the medication only made the patient feel worse, rendering him incapable of doing his prescribed physical therapy program.
Prior to his surgery, the man had been a triathlete, which made the cold water swim seem something he could do to forget about the pain. Once he plunged into the 51-degree water and swam for one minute, he discovered, to his surprise, that the pain vanished and didn’t come back.
“When I came out of the water, I realized the neuropathic pain had gone away. I couldn’t believe it.” He said.
His quality of life returned to normal after the cold swim and he has resumed his usual sporting activities without having to take any painkillers.
The sudden and permanent pain relief left researchers confused as to what actually happened. It was so unprecedented that they were hesitant to link the man’s recovery to the cold water, yet they acknowledge that no other explanation was available.
Researchers speculate that the sudden shock from the cold water might have triggered a wave of nervous system activity, essentially modifying the man’s brain activity and thus pain perception.
When explaining why the pain vanished completely, researchers believe the man’s reduced mobility might have kept him in pain. So when he jumped in the water and felt the pain relief he was allowed to move freely, thus breaking the cycle.
Researchers don’t outright recommend taking cold water swims to cure chronic pain without further evidence that supports this. However, they do acknowledge that cold water might prove effective where painkillers fail.
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