Chicago's annual Polar Plunge in March is for charity, not pain relief, but it regularly attracts celebrities like TV's Jon Seda, center.
Usually the standby for treating pain is a drug of some sort, from aspirin to opioids. But two recent cases suggest more offbeat remedies.
A 28-year-old man described in the BMJ Case Reports journal had undergone a successful surgical procedure on the nerves in his chest, but after 10 weeks of physiotherapy and pain medication, he still suffered severe chronic pain. The man, a seasoned triathlete, thought perhaps swimming in cold water would at least provide a temporary distraction. After the dip, he reported he felt no pain while in the water, and the pain hasn't returned.
The authors note that treating nerve pain is difficult and often only accomplished with structural changes in the brain. They posit that the icy plunge set off a response similar to an altered state of consciousness that led to altered pain perception and ultimately relief.
A broader study in Leipzig, Germany, observed 22 participants using fitness machines equipped with motion sensors that create sounds and compose music while you train. This combination of gym and musical improvisation, or jammin', is called Jymmin.
According to researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences, participants on average tolerated 10% more pain after just 10 minutes on these machines. Scientists claim it can raise a person's pain threshold, allowing for greater range of motion and quicker rehabilitation. And Jymmin machines may have an advantage that transcends physical relief. Creating a personal soundtrack has been shown to improve mood. Research can't yet say the same for jumping in icy water.