cold adaptation
Swimming in cold water could be an alternative to strong painkillers, doctors believe.

A short, sharp plunge into the open sea cured a British man of the debilitating pain he had been suffering for two and a half months.

Experts at Cambridge University and the University of East Anglia have now called for research into cold-water therapy as a treatment for serious pain, in light of his case.

Doctors believe the shock of sudden immersion may have disrupted his nervous system, jolting him out of a cycle of pain.

Writing in the journal BMJ Case Reports, Dr Tom Mole from UEA, and Pieter Mackeith from Cambridge, report the 'unexpected, immediate, complete and sustained remission' of the persistent pain suffered by a 28-year-old patient following an operation.

The man, who is not named, had been suffering from debilitating pain for 10 weeks when he decided to jump from a rocky outcrop into the sea 'as distraction'.

He said: 'I initially thought - "damn this is so cold I'm going to die!"

'I just swam for my life - Once I was in the water, I had tunnel vision - for the first time in months, I completely forgot about the pain or the fear of shooting pains in my chest if I moved.

'My entire body tingled with the cold.

'I just knew if I didn't keep swimming, I'd soon freeze.

'After a few moments I actually enjoyed it - it was just an immersive rush of adrenaline. I bet I couldn't have felt my pain, even if I tried'.

He added: 'When I came out of the water, I realised the neuropathic pain had gone away. I couldn't believe it.'

The man had undergone surgery 10 weeks earlier to reduce extreme and involuntary blushing of his face.

The operation, a minor keyhole procedure, involves cutting nerves that control bloodflow to the face, which run inside the rib cage near the top of the chest.

But during the operation there was slight damage to some neighbouring nerves, which resulted in repeated stabbing pain in the following weeks.

The man was given strong painkillers and physiotherapy, but two months later he had not recovered.

The doctors wrote: 'The patient reported pain was associated with significant distress, prevented return to preoperative levels of recreational sport and impaired quality of life.'

The man, who had previously competed in triathlons, decided to take matters into his own hands.

He decided to go for a swim off the coast at a place he had previously competed, 'in an attempt to manage the pain through distraction'.

The only way to was to jump in from a rocky outcrop.

Remarkably, just 60 seconds in the water completely cured him.

To his surprise, the he felt no pain while he was in the water and nor has he felt any since, and he has completely stopped all painkillers.

Given the absence of any alternative explanations other than pure chance, it seems as if the cold water plunge actually cured him.

His doctors believe the shock of the sudden cold water immersion induced a 'wave' of activity across his nervous system which led to an 'altered state of consciousness'.

This in turn altered his perception of pain, offering instant relief.

The pain relief he felt in the water then enabled him to move freely, for the first time in weeks, breaking the 'cycle' of pain.

The doctors concluded: '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.'