Ice baths for endometriosis

3 minute read

Maybe better than telling women to just get pregnant.

The Back Page has written before about the supposed health benefits of cold-water swimming.  

We wish the practitioners well and are happy to believe anything they say about it so long as we don’t have to do it ourselves.  

Ice baths and other displays of cold tolerance practised and preached by Dutch extreme athlete “the Ice Man” Wim Hof, such as his barefoot half-marathon through Arctic ice and snow, are a bit more radical.  

Cold exposure, hyperventilation and meditation (or “commitment”) are the three pillars of the Wim Hof Method, a practice that promises better health, reduction of disease symptoms, stress relief, higher energy levels, and that old chestnut a “boosted immune system” among a whole host of other physical and mental benefits.  

So when we received a press release the other day announcing a trial of the Wim Hof Method for endometriosis pain, our eyebrows went north.  

But then we remembered that women with endometriosis are still being told by doctors to sort it out by getting pregnant, and this suddenly seemed a lot less kooky.  

There’s nothing flaky about the pedigree or nature of the study.  

Researchers from the University of Adelaide’s school of biomedicine, with a grant from the Wilson Foundation, will spend a year gathering data “on the efficacy of the WHM in people with endometriosis and its impact on outcomes relating to pelvic pain, psychological status, endometriosis lesion characteristics, autonomic nervous system and endocrine system responses, and innate immune responses”, says trial lead Professor Mark Hutchinson.  

Professor Hutchinson and his team will study the molecular and cellular effects that the three elements of the WHM, separately and in concert, have on endometriosis pain. 

“We also aim to determine the feasibility of investigating the WHM in a larger clinical trial, and at its conclusion, its safety for people suffering with endometriosis,” he says.  

A quick survey of the TMR office turned up mostly skepticism; but our resident pain researcher and gun clinical reporter, Dr Lincoln Tracy (PhD), pointed out that mindfulness has been found to have real effects on how people live with and manage pain, while cold exposure training “could tap into some of the principles of conditioned pain modulation (where a painful stimulus can be inhibited by a second stimulus delivered elsewhere to the body)”. 

We will maintain an open mind, and some women will no doubt be up for any promising intervention, even one as uncomfortable as this.  

But still our first instinct for any clinician is to proceed with care when telling a woman with persistent pain to practise snap-freezing herself while breathing through it and staying mindful. You could lose an arm.  

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