the pain of miniature house construction, and wim hof to the rescue?

A few weeks into construction on my second house, I woke up with trigger finger. For those fortunate enough not to suffer from this affliction, it’s a finger that loses its range of movement. It is stiff and hard to bend, but when it does bend, the finger gets “stuck” in the down position, and then snaps back into place, a painful process.

I figured it developed from the force and repetition of using cutting tools in the house-building process. At first, I left it alone assuming it would pass in time. But the stiffness and swelling expanded to my middle finger. It was worse in the morning, but even when the swelling receded, the range of motion on my right hand had become quite impaired. It was time to take action.

I tried some hand exercises, ice, and Ibuprofen, albeit sporadically. I bought a gadget to help open jars, and arthritis gloves to ease the night swelling. I curtailed activities that inflamed the area as much as possible, but in the end, nothing was working and I’m just not very good at sitting still. It was time for the big guns.

I learned about Wim Hof through an interview with Mikhaila and Jordan Peterson. Wim Hof, who has the well-earned nickname “the Iceman,” is a proponent of natural therapies that include controlled breathing, strength work, and the make-or-break cold water/ice water immersion.

The interview was interesting in one of those too good to be true ways as Wim Hof claimed his method was an effective treatment for any number of conditions to include inflammation, which I believed was the root of my swollen fingers. Since I largely subscribe to the “can’t hurt, might help” philosophy of medical arts, I figured I’d give it a shot.

Fast forward: As I’m writing this, it’s been 30 days since I dipped my toe into the Wim Hof Method.

Breath Work

Technique: Lie down, relax; take in/let go 30 full breaths; hold breath after the 30th exhale for at least one and a half minutes. Then, inhale and hold the breath for 15 seconds. Exhale. Repeat cycle twice more. Each period of breath-holding should last one and a half to four minutes.

Cold Water

Technique: Wim Hof does ice water immersion, but suggests cold showers as an acceptable and more accessible alternative. He recommends three minutes. I was in the process of increasing my time when I thought of another option, which was my unheated spa. It’s California, so the water temperature in the spa had only been hovering in the low 60s, but that was in the vicinity of a cold shower. I soaked 10 minutes a day, then doubled down with a cold shower to rinse off the chlorine.

Result

Mixed. The breath work was great. By round three, I regularly achieved a near-hypnotic state, completely in the zone, and totally relaxed. No obvious help for inflammation based on my continuously swollen fingers, but great for stress-reduction.

I think the cold water work was supposed to be more influential on my inflammation than the breath work. Regardless, after 30 days I didn’t notice any change in my hand swelling or joint pain, but the regular headaches I’d been having for years evaporated. My mood was noticeably improved, and even if I got angry, I didn’t feel the accompanying tightness and tension.

Supposedly, the cold water work has a positive effect on the immune system. I can’t assess it due to the COVID restrictions. Are the masks keeping me healthy? The social distancing? The hand washing? Or is it the weekly intake of 30+ fruits/vegetables for my microbiome? Or cold water immersion? The problem with testing multiple attributes simultaneously is you don’t know which one influences an outcome.

For the time being, I plan to continue Wim Hof’s techniques. The breathing exercise gives me the same result as an exceptionally successful meditation but faster and with more consistency. And although I haven’t experienced any obvious positive effects with the cold water therapy, there are a lot of positive reports about the benefits of cold showers. It might work on my inflammation over time.

But what about my current dilemma, a hand whose impairment is standing in the way of her latest project? What’s next on the solutions list? Power tools, of course. Why am I straining my hand when a Micro-MakeTM Tilting Arbor Saw exists in this world?

I wonder if I can build a garage with mini power tools so I have a place to store them?

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