Cold forced open-water swimming: a natural intervention to improve postoperative pain and mobilisation outcomes?

24 Jul 2018

Postoperative neuropathic pain exacerbated by movement is poorly understood and difficult to treat but a relatively common complication of surgical procedures such as endoscopic thoracic sympathectomy. Here, we describe a case of unexpected, immediate, complete and sustained remission of postoperative intercostal neuralgia after the patient engaged in an open-water swim in markedly cold conditions. Though an incidental chance association is possible, the clear temporal proximity linking the swim with pain remission make a causal relationship possible. We discuss plausible mechanisms that may underlie the relationship and discuss the potential implications for postoperative pain management and patient-centred mobilisation. We recommend further evaluation of cold forced open-water swimming as a mobility-pain provocation challenge to see if the observed unexpectedly positive outcome, can be replicated. With the poor response to traditional management, there is a need for novel, curative interventions for postoperative neuropathic pain and associated impaired mobility.