Swimming in cold water may be a better alternative to painkillers: Study

Doctors carried out a surgical procedure (endoscopic thoracic sympathectomy) on a 28-year-old man to curb his excessive facial flushing.

Swimming in cold water may be a better alternative to painkillers: Study
(Representational image)

New Delhi: Suffering from severe persistent pain post surgery? Forget painkillers. Try going for a short swim in cold, sharp waters, a study has said.

According to the study, swimming in cold water may offer an alternative to strong painkillers and physiotherapy to relieve severe pain after surgery.

Doctors carried out a surgical procedure (endoscopic thoracic sympathectomy) on a 28-year-old man to curb his excessive facial flushing.

The surgery entailed cutting the triggering nerves inside his chest, according to the case study.

While the surgery was a success, the usual postoperative prescription of strong painkillers and staged physiotherapy barely offered relief.

In fact, exercise and movement just made the pain worse, the main explained, preventing him from completing his rehabilitation and recovery.

The constant pain caused him a great deal of distress and wrecked his quality of life, the authors said.

Before his surgery, the young man had been a keen triathlete, and so had swum competitively in open water.

He thought that a cold water swim would, at the very least, provide some welcome distraction from the searing pain.

The man returned to the same coastal spot where the triathlon took place.

The only way to enter the water there is to plunge in from a rocky outcrop, he explained.

Competitors are forced to swim for around 60 seconds before being able to clamber safely back ashore.

To his surprise, the young man felt no pain while he was in the water, but nor has he felt any since, the authors report.

His preoperative quality of life has been fully restored and he has resumed his usual sporting activities without further recourse to any painkillers.

"Due to the nature of retrospective case reports, it is unclear, without further evidence, whether the exposure to forced cold water swimming is causally and specifically related to pain remission," said the authors, who caution that this is only one case report.

However, given the time frame and the absence of any alternative explanations other than pure chance, it seems as if the cold water plunge might have afforded some instant pain relief - at least, in this case, they said.

How this might have happened is not clear, the authors said, adding there are some possible biological explanations.

The shock of the sudden cold water immersion might have induced a wave of sympathetic nervous system activity: the body's response to this has been linked to an altered state of consciousness.

This, in turn, might have altered pain perception, offering instant relief, they said.

(With PTI inputs)