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Neck complaints, swimming, cold water, and the Wim Hof method

Introduction

On this page I describe my experiences with cold water and sitting in an ice bath according to the Wim Hof method. Because of my neck complaints, I use my own way to deal with it.

Warning

It can be dangerous to do intensive breathing exercises because someone can lose consciousness.
It can be dangerous to sit in cold water. Because of the shock it is very easy to breathe too little or too much, so that someone can lose consciousness.
Take these warnings seriously. Start, for example, with water of 15°C (59°F) and have someone else there with you.

Swimming

In 2019 it was possible for me to go swimming.
Swimming on my chest with the breaststroke was not possible for me when I started swimming. When I tried to keep my head up, my neck blocked the motion. Swimming on my back was possible. I let my head and arms lie relaxed in the water, and use only my legs and feet.
After a while there was more movement in my back and neck because of the swimming, so I could also swim with the breaststroke.

I bought a wetsuit, a "shorty", to be able to swim in the fall for as long as possible. It is stressful for my neck to take it off after swimming, but the benefits of swimming are greater than the disadvantages of pulling out my wetsuit.
To deal better with the cold water, I got interested in the method by Wim Hof.

My problems with cold

Because of my neck problems, my body sometimes has difficulty to stay warm. The more mechanical pressure there is on my neck, the harder it is to stay warm.
A few times a year my temperature keeps dropping. The only way to get warm in that situtation is to stand under a hot shower for a while.

By swimming in cold water and sitting in an ice bath, these problems have not decreased. Despite my problems with cold, it turned out to be possible that my body could get used to going through a short time of cold exposure. I sat in ice water for the first time in December 2022. That is something that I would not have thought was possible a few years ago.

Cold shower

A cold shower is not possible for me. I can not keep my neck muscles relaxed under a cold shower.
However, I can lower myself in a container with cold water. I keep my neck and head above the water.

A container of cold water

When it is too cold to go swimming in the winter, I put a container with water in my back garden. I don't put ice in it, so the water temperature is the average of the day and night temperature.
An inflatable bath to sit in is too small for me, it hardly comes to my waist. I prefer that only neck and head stick out of the water. So I use a container with 500 liters (132 galleons) of water.
First I sat in a squatting position, but that was a bad posture for my back and neck. By sitting down on my knees I can keep my back and neck straight.

It is advised to sit in cold water for 5 minutes. However, I set my goal to 10 minutes, because I want to be able to swim in cold water for at least 10 minutes.

My own interpretation of the Wim Hof method

The intensive breathing exercises are too stressful for my neck, so I don't do those. I also do not do the exercises afterwards to become warm, because those are also stressful for my neck.

My experience is that with a good preparation, the cold is only half as bad. A few hours before I go in cold water, I already take that into account by paying attention to the amount that I eat.
My way in short:

• I take care that I am not hungry and that I have not eaten too much.
• I make sure that I am not cold. Going for a walk helps to get warmer inside.
• Before I go for a walk, I lie on a bed that has a stretching effect on my neck (decompression of neck).
• Ten or fifteen minutes before I go into the cold water, I do breathing exercises.
• After I knew what the cold water did to my body, I go into the cold water in one go and then let my body get used to the cold.
• I pay close attention to my breathing.
• I look at my watch (stopwatch) to keep track of the time. I do not stay longer in the water than what I had intended in advance.
• If it is no longer possible for me to suppress the shivering, then I go out of the water.
• If I went swimming and still have to walk home, then I try to walk in a relaxed way and I breathe in a calm way to keep my heart rate as low as possible. That way my hands and feet stay cold and my body is still warm on the inside. That turned out to be the best way to keep my neck relaxed. Once at home I warm up under a hot shower.
• If I have been in a container with cold water, then I go the bathroom and dry myself. Then I wait. After 5 to 10 minutes I start to feel the cold and I warm up under a warm shower.

My breathing exercises that I do in advance consist of taking a deep breath and hold that for a short moment while I relax.
I take a deep breath by first getting air in the lower part of my lungs, then in the upper part of my lungs. I hold that for a moment and meanwhile I try to relax the rest of my body. I make sure that I relax my neck and shoulders. After a few seconds I let the air out calmly and then I breathe again.
I notice the effect in my fingers. If I notice that I am getting dizzy, then I will stop the breathing exercises for a moment.

In the cold water my hands and feet will hurt and get numb and I can barely move them after a few minutes. That is okay, if I go out of the water, they start to get better after a few minutes. The "pain" is more an inconvenience. For someone who is familiar with serious migraine, it doesn't mean anything at all. It is even pleasant to feel a different kind of pain, that has no other negative consequenses.
It strikes me that my body recovers faster after I get out of the cold water. I did not expect that. It improves a little each year.

It seems to take about six weeks before it gets easier to sit in a container with (ice) cold water. For me that took two months. So for two months my body got an enourmous shock by lowering myself into cold water. After that, it was easier. Sometimes I am very reluctant to go outside and sit in a container with cold water. However, once I am in the water, it turns out to be not so bad every time.

Food

The colder the water in which I swim or sit, the more I want to eat fatty fish such as smoked salmon and pickled herring. My breakfast is regularly pickled herring on prebaked bread.
During the summer I have no appitite for pickled herring. The longer I sit in the sun in the summer, the more I want to eat tomatoes.

Advantages of cold water or ice bath

Others feel cheerful and full of energy after they have been in cold water or an ice bath. I hardly experience that because my neck complaints are so overwhelming.
I mainly do it to get used to cold water, because I want to go swimming for my neck and back. Yet I notice several positive effects. Because of my neck complaints I cannot do physical exercise (except swimming). With the cold water my body is brought into a different state, that is nice because my life is quite passive for the rest.

Rheumatism

My grandfather on my mother's side had thick sensitive and sore joints of his fingers. My mother had that too, but not as bad. When I was about 50 years, it started also a little in the joints of my fingers.
I don't know the difference between rheumatism, arthritis, osteoarthritis and gout. I use the term "rheumatism" below, but I could be wrong.

In the summer I had little problems with it, but in the winter a number of joints of my fingers where painful with touching and moving them and they were less mobile. The symptoms got worse by swimming in cold water in the spring and autumn.

I started swimming in 2019 and since 2022 I have a container with water in my back garden in the winter. If I can't go swimming, then I sit in that container with water for about 10 minutes every day. The first weeks, I tried to spare my hands and kept them above the water by holding the edge of the container. However, that was not relaxed. So then I let my arms hang in the water in a relaxed way. The problems with the joints of my fingers no longer seemed to increase.
In December 2022 there was ice on the water in my container. That was the first time that I sat in ice water. The problems with the joints of my fingers even decreased.

Some say that the Wim Hof method helps with diseases that have to do with inflammation, and that people with rheumatism, for example, can benefit from it.
I usually don't take such stories so seriously, but now I notice it by myself.

In the winter of 2022/2023 the problems with the joints of my fingers were perhaps only ten percent of what it was before. My right hand is completely normal and only the joints of my middle finger of my left hand are a bit stiff and can hurt a bit.

I find this surprising. There is no serious medicine against rheumatism, but it can apparently decrease with cold water and ice baths.

Blood supply to fingers

When I went swimming as a teenager with others in the summer, the blood stopped going through my fingers. When that happened, I got out of the water. After a while, the blood flow slowly started again.

I still have it. The advice with such problems is to avoid cold and stress.
By sitting in a container with cold water it has become less for me.
Due to the breathing exercises and the cold, a change in the blood circulation of the entire body arises. The body also learns to recover better from the cold. Maybe that is the reason that sitting in cold water is good for it.
When I search online for "Raynaud syndrome" and ice baths, then the result seems to depend on the severity and cause of it.
Maybe it helps for me because perhaps I have that syndrome only slightly and maybe I have no underlying cause for the blood pulling out of my fingers.

Last change to this page: December 2022