Floating and injury recovery

In 1994 a young Australian cyclist named Brett Dennis rode off a cliff in the US Tour DuPont road race, falling 12 feet and smashing his femur through his hip socket. Doctors gave him little chance of walking properly again. Back home in Australia two weeks later, with a steel pin through his broken pelvis, Dennis was understandably depressed and near to giving up his sporting ambitions.

But at the Australian Institute of Sport, Dennis was put onto a program of intensive physiotherapy. He also spent an hour a day playing “mind games” — closing his eyes and visualising a blue light traveling from his chest to his hip joint, washing away damaged tissue and replacing it with new cells.

Three times a week, he lay cocooned in an AIS float tank. Above him, a custom-made videotape played highlights of his own best races and those of his cycling heroes, with his favourite music playing in the background. Seven weeks after the accident Dennis started training again. Seven weeks after that, he was in shape to compete at the Commonwealth Games, and — with his three teammates — not only won gold, but broke the Australian record in the 100 km team time trial. [1]

There are many such stories of sports heroes using float tanks to recover from disabling injuries — everything from English soccer star Wayne Rooney crediting a tank for returning him from a sprained ankle “weeks ahead of schedule” in 2008, to Phillips Idowu recovering from a back injury before winning silver in the Olympic triple jump in Beijing.  These are certainly exceptional cases, but the human mind and body is an extraordinary system.  Evidence abounds that relaxation and positive visualization are strongly beneficial for healing.  The float tank is an ideal environment for both.

In one of the larger studies to date, the Swedish research group of Sven-Åker Bood found lasting reduction of pain & soreness — participants reported an average of 45% less pain continuing four months after a programme of floating twice a week, 12 times in all.  In 2008, the same group interviewed seven subjects with chronic pain from whiplash injuries, about their experiences being treated with 45 minute flotation sessions.  “The effects of the flotation-REST treatment improves the participants’ experiences … in terms of pain reduction, stress management, changed attitudes, renewed coping strategies, openness to perceptions, and the sense of a centered self.” [2]


[1] Attributed to the Australian edition of Time Magazine, 1995, by Cocoon Floatation and others.

[2] Edebol, Bood & Norlander, “Chronic Whiplash-Associated Disorders and Their Treatment Using Flotation-REST”, 2008, Qualitative Health Research, Vol 18 No 4, 480-488

About colin

Cofounder, FLOAT. Colin has been an astronomer and a software developer. He's watched the sun set from Angkor Wat and rise over the Arctic Circle, and believes that life is much too important to take seriously.