The benefits of ice baths have long been hailed by those primarily engaged in the sports and athletics industry; Many people claim that they present one of the most efficient and effective ways to relieve post-workout aches and pains.
Normally recommended by coaches and sports therapists in times of forced physical injury, the benefits of the ice bath are said to: aid in post-workout recovery, reduce muscle stress and decrease inflammation.
Also known as cold water immersion, ice baths have been prescribed and advised by medical professionals for hundreds of years, but not just for sports purposes. Other areas where ice baths offer benefits are said to be holistic wellness, injury recovery, and mental well-being.
Ice baths are a form of cryotherapy (cold therapy), which can be simplified as the general use of low temperatures in medically prescribed therapy. In these cases, the body is usually exposed to extremely cold temperatures for several minutes and is most commonly used to treat a variety of tissue injuries. Lesions are abnormal changes in an organ or tissue that occur as a result of injury or disease.
Although the name can be self-explanatory, for reference, an ice bath is a tub filled with water that is between 10 and 15 degrees Celsius . It requires the person to sit in the tub with the water at chest level and stay there for 10-15 minutes for optimal results.
The water does not need to be below the 10 degree Celsius mark as this suggested temperature allows all the benefits of an ice bath to be effective without freezing.
How do they work?
Ice baths work to change the way blood and other fluids move through the body and with this comes a direct reduction in inflammation and assists in recovery processes.
The temperature of the ice bath water stimulates the contraction of the blood vessels in the body, and then, when removed from the bath, the blood vessels dilate (open up again). This process is effective in removing the metabolic waste created after training, this waste is what makes our body ache after intense training, because when we exercise, the body produces substances such as lactic acid.
The process of causing blood vessels to constrict (become smaller), which promotes ice baths work to reduce swelling and, in turn, reduce pain. Cold also slows down the rate at which nerves send messages, which is another way to reduce pain.
Immersing the body in cold water is a more efficient way to cool down multiple muscle groups at the same time. Like an ice pack, it reduces swelling and muscle damage caused by exercise by constricting blood vessels and slowing metabolic activity.
It also reduces stress on the cardiovascular system and reduces hyperthermia (elevated body temperature), which can reduce fatigue. For both local icing and ice bath immersion, another beneficial part of the process occurs once the cold stimulus has been removed. During this warm-up period, there is a return of fresh blood to the body, which floods cells with nutrients and oxygen, and helps remove waste products from tissue breakdown.
While your heart constantly moves blood throughout your body, your lymph nodes don’t have a pump. Ice baths manually constrict and open the vessels, which helps fluids stagnant in the lymph nodes move throughout the body. The increased blood flow also floods your cells with nutrients and oxygen to theoretically help the body recover.
Professional athletes and fitness fanatics love these cold baths. There is a clear divide over who does and does not use an ice bath, but are those who refuse missing out?
Increases metabolism and weight loss
To lose weight, many of us subject our bodies to unappealing experiences, such as restricting our favorite foods, exercising too much, etc.
However, the science lies in how cold temperatures can change the type of fat our body produces, replacing white fat with brown. This is important as brown fat is actually what drives the body to burn extra calories and is much easier to burn. Brown fat is only activated when you are cold and is responsible for accelerating the metabolic process. To combat the cold, it works by producing heat to help maintain body temperature. It contains more mitochondria (the powerhouses of cells) than other forms of body fat. The mitochondria in brown fat are the “engines” that burn calories to produce heat.
In short, the more calories we burn, the more effective it will be both for our metabolic system and, of course, for weight loss.
Relieves symptoms of depression
If we’ve ever jumped into an icy pool early in the morning on vacation, just before the heat of the sun had had time to warm it up, or didn’t realize the shower was freezing, we’ll be familiar with temperature shock. which can cause a sudden feeling of energy.
This energizing shock is caused by a release of catecholamines (adrenaline and noradrenaline) and endorphins that comes as a direct response to cold; it is essentially an adrenaline rush. It ‘s basically an adrenaline rush .
The most important findings are that the act of cold hydrotherapy, such as ice baths, present an effective option as a natural mood enhancer, as well as an analgesic and anxiety reducer. This is due to the role cold temperatures play in increasing blood levels of beta-endorphin, a peptide neurotransmitter and hormone produced by the pituitary gland that plays a role in the positive effects exercise can have on mood. cheer up.
While we cannot suggest that ice baths alone can cure depression and mood disorders, there is significant evidence to suggest that it can help relieve symptoms associated with it and present a mood booster.
Relieves muscle pain
The benefits of ice baths in relation to post-workout recovery, muscle soreness, and fatigue are perhaps the most commonly recognized uses.
The reason this method has been used by athletes and sportsmen for hundreds of years is due to the role cold temperatures are said to play in reducing bloating and lactic acid buildup . Although lactic acid isn’t always a bad thing, and can actually be very helpful to the body, a buildup can present its own list of downsides.
When lactate builds up in your bloodstream faster than we can burn it, that’s when you’re at risk of developing muscle soreness, cramps, and muscle fatigue. In addition to its role in lactate accumulation, the benefits of the ice bath also include helping to increase tissue oxygenation , which is an important process for muscle repair.
If we’ve ever used an ice pack on an injury like a sprain, we already know that ice can quickly make the affected area less painful. This is because cold temperatures have the ability to numb nerve endings, which means fewer pain signals are sent to the brain.
Due to the effects that cold immersion therapy can have on regulating cortisol levels, this in turn can directly reduce the effects and occurrence of sleep-related disorders as well as symptoms of depression.
Cortisol, the hormone we commonly associate with stress, is responsible for helping coordinate our sleep cycles. This implies that if we can regulate the body’s cortisol levels by taking an ice bath, it allows for better sleep routines and reduces stress levels.
Calming the nervous system plays a vital role in being able to wind down and allowing the mind and body to wind down before a good night’s sleep. If we are interested in additional sleep aids to combine with the weekly ice baths, we may be interested in improving the relaxation of the body through the practice of Yoga.
Improves sports performance
To achieve the sports performance benefits of ice baths, you don’t have to wait until after your workout. Rather, many athletes use the pre-cool down method where they soak in an ice bath before exercising, especially on a hot, humid day that would otherwise affect their performance.
Similar to how we mentioned that post-workout ice baths cool down the body’s core temperature, the same principle applies pre-workout as well.
During exercise, heat is generated when the muscles produce energy. The body works hard to regulate this change in temperature and keep it within a safe range, however, that can sometimes become unmanageable when combined with hot weather. This can cause you to abort your workout earlier than planned to avoid heat exhaustion, and fatigue can also set in at a much earlier stage.
Fortunately, soaking in an ice bath for 10 to 15 minutes before an intense workout on particularly hot and humid days has been shown to reduce the negative impacts of weather by lowering core body temperature by a few degrees.
It may not come as a surprise that ice baths have their drawbacks, after all, we are immersing the body in very cold temperatures.
Reduce the effectiveness of strength training
Although the use of an ice bath is recommended to help heal sore muscles after a strenuous, high-intensity workout, there is evidence to suggest that ice baths are harmful when used after a strength-training session.
One study highlighted that long-term gains in muscle mass and strength were decreased in those who took ice baths. It has been hinted that cold baths may not only result in smaller muscle gains in the long run, but may actually stunt muscle growth altogether.
As with any type of prolonged exposure to extreme cold temperatures, there is a risk of hypothermia, and sadly, ice baths are no exception.
Hypothermia is a medical emergency that occurs when the body loses heat faster than it can produce heat, resulting in a dangerously low body temperature. General guidelines state that when a person is submerged in temperatures of 5 degrees Celsius, it will take between 10 and 20 minutes before they begin to experience loss of coordination and strength, which are the first signs of hypothermia.
That said, if the guidelines of a 10 to 15 minute time frame and a temperature of 10 to 15 degrees Celsius are met, the risk of hypothermia is minimal.
Risk for people with heart conditions
As we explained earlier, many of the benefits of the ice bath come from the impact it has on the body, activating responses such as “fight or flight” and the energizing boost that decreases feelings of depression. However, this shock can have a marked effect on blood flow that in some populations is not beneficial and in some cases could lead to sudden death in people with existing heart disease.
As cold temperatures lower core temperature, constrict blood vessels and slow blood flow from the body to the arms and legs, this can make it harder for the heart to pump blood through those constricted vessels. This is particularly dangerous in those who already have reduced blood flow, as it can put people in those populations at higher risk of stroke or cardiac arrest.
Worsens tight muscles
Although ice baths are beneficial for relieving pain and reducing muscle inflammation, they may worsen pain in tight or stiff muscles.
Although there are properties of ice baths that encourage our bodies to enter relaxed states, the same theory does not apply to our muscles; Ice baths cause muscles to contract and when this occurs in tight or stiff muscles it can make the pain much worse, especially at points in the lower back or neck.