The operation, which involved cutting the triggering nerves inside his chest, was successful.
But, ten weeks later, the usual postoperative prescription of strong painkillers and staged physiotherapy had barely made a dent in the severity of his pain.
The patient said exercise and movement just made the pain worse, preventing him from completing his rehabilitation and recovery.
And the constant pain caused him a great deal of distress and wrecked his quality of life.
Before his surgery the young man had been a keen triathlete, and had swum competitively in open water.
He thought a cold water swim would, at the very least, provide some welcome distraction from the searing pain.
He said he returned to the same coastal spot where the triathlon took place, where the only way to enter the water is to plunge in from a rocky outcrop.
Competitors are forced to swim for a minute before being able to clamber safely back ashore.
To his surprise, the young man felt no pain while he was in the water, and nor has he felt any since, the study, published in the journal BMJ Case Reports, found.
They added his preoperative quality of life has been fully restored and he has resumed his usual sporting activities without further recourse to any painkillers.
However, the authors noted this is only one case report.
They wrote: “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.”
But given the timeframe and the lack of any alternative explanations other than pure chance, it seems as if the cold water plunge might have afforded some instant pain relief, they said.
Although how this happened is not clear, they put forward some possible biological explanations.
The shock of the sudden cold water immersion might have induced a wave of sympathetic nervous system activity, with the body’s response linked to an altered state of consciousness.
This in turn might have altered pain perception, offering instant relief, the doctors said.
As to why his pain disappeared completely over the long term, they said his reduced mobility might have helped maintain the pain.
The pain relief he felt in the water would have enabled him to move freely, so breaking that cycle, they explained.
Nerve pain can be very difficult to treat and is associated with structural changes in the brain and a legacy of psychological problems if it doesn’t respond to conventional treatment, they added.
A cold water plunge might succeed where painkillers fail, but only if backed up by more substantive evidence, the team concluded.
They said: “Further prospective [exploratory] investigation is needed to assess the replicability and feasibility of forced cold water swimming as a potentially effective, natural intervention to enhance recovery outcomes from common postoperative complications.”
Source : EXPRESS