My kind of nuclear physics
Could a radioactive cave near Salzburg be an all-purpose cure for injury and affliction? I took my injured hamstring to Austria to find out.
Lying on a sunlounger in a narrow, humid cave inhaling low levels of naturally-occuring Radon gas might not be the most obvious solution to natural pain management… But 11,000 people (45% German, 45% Austrian, 10% other) each year make the journey to the Gastein Healing Caves, 90-minutes’ drive from Salzburg. Most are hoping to diminishing the debilitating effects of conditions like fibromyalgia, rheumatism, arthritis, and some, like me, are here for the supposed speed-healing of sports injuries.
But can a forty-minute lie-down in a cavernous tunnel some fifteen minutes’ train journey into the rock really make a difference? The first signs came when miners claimed their rheumatic pains had disappeared after working in the caves.
But can a forty-minute lie-down in a cavernous tunnel some fifteen minutes’ train journey into the rock really make a difference? The first signs came when miners claimed their rheumatic pains had disappeared after working in the caves. The University of Innsbruck began research in 1946 and found enough benefits to merit beginning formal therapy programmes in the Gastein Healing galleries in 1952.
Certainly, a chronically-ill mother I shared a cave-bound train carriage with reported a huge reduction in her painkiller use after her first visit. Her overly-stressed daughter is here too; she says she feels an increased sense of wellbeing and a reduction in anxiety afterwards. Studies seemingly agree, with 90% of visitors (some supported by health insurance) reporting improvements in quality of life. It’s all about this particular blend of Radon and humidity apparently, which helps to reduce inflammation in the body and increase cell growth rate too.
Some of the magic, however, takes place nearby at the medical spa hotel, Grand Park Hotel, surrounded by vast and panoramic alpine views, in the tiny, authentic village of Bad Hofgastein. It’s a place with an acquired reputation for treating guests suffering from burnout, who come here, not just to visit the caves but also to spend time in the hotel’s 2000sq-metre spa, under the guise of an in-house medical doctor who oversees their treatment and nutrition plan.
But did my dodgy hamstring recover faster as a result of my stint in the healing valley? Honestly, I don’t know. It certainly didn’t fix itself immediately – but three days of hopping from sauna, to steam, to Jacuzzi – and, of course to a humid cave embedded in the rock – certainly left me feeling good (if not positively radioactive) …
– By Lucy Fry
First appeared in Easy Jet Traveller magazine.