Ice Bath

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  • Date:2024/03/21

What is an ice bath?

Anna Cotton (PT, DPT, ACT), a physical therapist at Emory Sports Medicine Center, said that ice bathing "means exposing your body to cold temperatures that you find uncomfortable.". Ice bath, also known as cold water bath, is a form of cold water therapy. When taking an ice bath, you need to immerse your body (up to your neck) in cold water for a specific period of time.

Experts trace cold water therapy back to ancient Egypt. A document titled "Edwin Smith Surgical Papyrus" from 1930 detailed how ancient Egyptians used cold to help improve health and reduce inflammation. The ancient Greeks and Romans also used cold water therapy for medical treatment and relaxation. Today, we are using an ice bath for similar reasons.


Due to everyone's different feelings of temperature, an extremely cold environment for one person may be warm for others. "It depends very much on the individual," Kotel said. "You don't need to reach 32 degrees to benefit, especially if you're not used to the cold."

The optimal temperature for ice bathing is not yet clear. However, people with more ice bathing experience may be even lower. For example, the temperature of Dutch extreme athlete Wim Hof, known as the "Iceman," ranges from 32 to 43 degrees Fahrenheit. Beginners should start with warmer temperatures. When you adapt to the cold, you can lower the temperature.


What are the benefits of ice bathing?

Although willingly immersing oneself in a bathtub filled with ice may not sound interesting, trying it out has extraordinary health benefits. Generally speaking, cold therapy is a common treatment method for orthopedics and sports injuries.

Kottel obtained a PhD in physical therapy and takes care of many patients with pain in the buttocks, knees, or shoulders, especially after surgery. Her athlete patients often engage in cold water diving after injury or endurance training to aid in overall recovery. But overall, she suggests applying local ice for 20 minutes and stopping medication for 20 minutes to alleviate pain and swelling. Kotel said another benefit of cold therapy is that it can reduce the use of painkillers during recovery.

Cold therapy can accelerate muscle recovery after strenuous exercise. It can also help alleviate pain and soreness and reduce inflammation by causing blood vessels to contract and then expand.

Ice bathing is also beneficial for the mind. Research has shown that cold immersion can increase the concentration of dopamine (a "feeling good" chemical) in the brain by 250%. Ice bath can also reduce the content of stress hormone cortisol. Over time, ice baths can help enhance your ability to resist stress.


stimulate metabolism

Cold exposure activates brown adipose tissue, generating energy that is then converted into heat, a process known as thermogenesis. Although more research is needed, the byproduct of this process may be a promotion of metabolism, as the body is working overtime to regulate body temperature. In fact, a study on mice found that cold exposure doubled their metabolic rate. Centenari added that this special ice bath benefit is "very beneficial" for the elderly because "as we age, we often lose brown fat.".


Reduce muscle soreness

"Cold exposure can constrict blood vessels and reduce blood flow, which helps reduce inflammation in the body," Centenari explained. "By regulating the inflammatory response, your body can recover better after exercise."

The study explored this and confirmed that in some cases, conducting CWI shortly after exercise can prevent injuries and help athletes recover.


Anti-inflammatory (medicine)

CWI can be compared to applying ice to swollen wounds, but on a larger scale. Therefore, it is not surprising that it has been found to have anti-inflammatory effects, reducing body swelling and pain.


Mood improves

Cold exposure can activate the release of endorphins and adrenaline, which have been studied and found to be effective in treating depression. In addition, a 2021 study found that CWI is an effective therapy for improving the emotions of young and healthy individuals.


Heart Health

A 2015 study explored how cold adaptation affects cardiovascular disease risk and found that compared to non cold adapted participants, cold adapted participants had better cardiovascular health indicators and better ability to handle oxidative stress. Davis explained that it is worth noting that there are some conflicting research findings suggesting that ice bathing may increase cardiovascular risk as it increases the overall burden on the heart. Therefore, before incorporating ice bathing into your daily life, it is best to consult with your.


How to do an ice bath?

There is no standard guide on how to perform an ice bath. Therefore, most of the information - about the optimal water temperature, how long to sit in an ice bath, and how often to wash - comes from research and first-hand data.

If you decide to try an ice bath, you have many options. You can go to a gym or spa with a cold water pool, or purchase a home ice bath with a temperature control system. But you can also use only the bathtub. All you need is some ice cubes, a thermometer, and a timer.


Taking an ice bath at home:

Add warm water and place the thermometer in the bathtub.

Gradually add ice cubes to warm water. Remember to wear comfortable clothes such as T-shirts and shorts before entering the bathtub.

When the water temperature reaches 50-59 degrees Fahrenheit (or 10-15 degrees Celsius), slowly step into the bathtub.

Set the alarm to 5-10 minutes or less based on a reasonable feeling.

Carefully leave the bathtub and make sure to thoroughly dry before changing into dry clothes.


Some ice bath enthusiasts suggest that gradually increasing tolerance to cold water exposure is a good idea. For example, gradually lowering the temperature of the ice bath until it reaches a suitable temperature for you may be a good idea. Alternatively, you can try starting from the lower body, slowly entering the ice bath, and then soaking your entire body. In this way, ice water will not stimulate your system.Before attempting cold water therapy at home, please consult your doctor. If there is no problem, please start at a higher temperature and lower the temperature after adapting to the cold. Kotel suggests that you take a cold shower first, which is usually safe. You can also inject cold water into the bathtub. If you stay too long without adapting to the cold, you may experience problems such as excessive ventilation (shortness of breath). You don't have to put your entire body in at the beginning - you can start with your arms and legs, and gradually expand to more parts of your body.


You also need to ensure that it does not warm up too quickly again. Entering high temperatures immediately may have an impact on your system. On the contrary, please heat or dry naturally. After taking an ice bath, doing some light exercises such as stretching, walking, squatting, or push ups can also help to warm up again.

For safety reasons, having a companion nearby can be helpful, especially if you are not familiar with cold water therapy. If certain situations occur, such as uncontrollable tremors, you may need help. You still want to focus on breathing while taking a shower. It can help you control your reaction to cold. Friends can help you adjust your breathing and guide you to immerse yourself in it.


What are the risks of ice bathing?

Although ice bathing has many benefits, there are also risks. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the United States has warned that hypothermia (a dangerous drop in body temperature) may occur when the water temperature is below 70 degrees Celsius. When immersed in water with a temperature below 59 degrees, you may experience immersion hypothermia. Water carries heat away from the body 25 times faster than air, resulting in a faster decrease in body temperature underwater.


People with certain health issues should exercise caution before attempting ice baths. For example, diabetes can affect your ability to perceive tissue damage, which may occur in extremely cold water or when you stay underwater for too long. Kotel said that if you have open wounds or incisions, you should also avoid immersion in water. On the contrary, you can apply ice to the wound to ensure there is a barrier to prevent the risk of infection.


"When someone tries ice bathing for the first time, there may be risks, especially if they haven't consulted a doctor about any potential illnesses," Kotel said. "If they don't relax themselves, there is also a risk involved."


Are you ready for the adventure?

Adding an ice bath may be beneficial to your daily health, so please understand the risks before turning off the faucet. Kotel said that if you are trying cold therapy for the first time, it is best to have someone supervise you. This trend may not be suitable for everyone, so please consult your doctor or trainer first. You can also collaborate with a physical therapist to find the method that suits you.

If chronic pain and suffering in your joints make you feel frustrated, please seek help from experts at Emory Orthopedics and Spinal Center. Through flexible scheduling options, we can help you quickly relieve stress, allowing you to refocus on the most important moments for you.





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