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The concept of taking an ice bath after a hard-core training session can ensure fast recovery from injury in the world of sports. Coldwater immersion is a type of cryotherapy that freezes and removes abnormal tissues by exposing your body to cold temperature but not literally to the point of freezing. Apart from being followed by elite and amateur athletes, this cold therapy is widely used in spas and sports medicine clinics and at home to enjoy its benefits.
What Is an Ice Bath?
Ice baths can be a therapeutic process that revitalizes and strengthens muscle cells and mends tissue damage. It is thus gaining popularity as a post-workout ritual for athletes from various fields. They swear by the positive effect of cold-water immersion that helps speed up their body’s recovery after an intense drill or any competition. However, this controversial method involves the risk of hypothermia that can result in shock or even the possibility of sudden death. As a part of hydrotherapy, ice-cold shower therapies have been a time-honored tradition for many centuries.
This therapy can assist our body in adapting to harsher conditions. It is not the main source of treatment for any specific condition but may improve symptom relief and optimize our general well-being. Evidence supporting these internal physical processes is not well understood and remains quite elusive. While some studies suggest cold bath helps in reducing muscle wear and tear, soothing overtaxed muscles, or reducing muscle soreness, some believe this may obstruct muscle growth or affect the overall training regimen.
Nevertheless, we must weigh the pros and cons of this practice to ensure that an ice bath can offer the fastest recovery after exercise.
Potential Benefits of Ice Bath
Although many people dread cold water every morning, cold showers can have a place in your daily routine. Regardless of your personal preference, research suggests potential ice bath health benefits you need to be aware of.
1. Sore Muscle Relief
Muscle soreness can be delayed by immersing in ice-cold water. After an intense exercise, the body temperature is lowered due to excess sweating. This slows down blood flow which helps reduce inflammation in the tissues, providing them instant relief from pain.
2. Boost Immunity
The leukocytes present in our bloodstream are activated by cold water. This helps fight infection or increases the ability to resist common illnesses, like cold, flu, and certain types of cancer.
3. Stress Relief
Routine cold showers gently shock our body and activate our nervous system, which triggers the release of happy hormones like endorphins. Hydrotherapy is, in fact, a holistic method of treatment for relieving symptoms of depression.
4. Weight Loss
A regular cold shower, 2-3 times per week, may improve the rate of metabolic activity and reduce obesity over time. When our body is exposed to cold temperatures, the brown fat cells get activated to produce heat that burns down calories, resulting in weight loss.
5. Soothe Itchy Skin
Hot showers can dry your skin out, while cold showers can aid in overcoming excessive itching and scratching due to skin irritation.
6. Better Sleep
A five-minute ice bath releases the hormone melatonin that prompts tiredness, making the onset of sleep faster, thereby improving the quality of your sleep.
7. Lower Risk of Injury
Ice baths can reduce the possibilities of injury by minimizing swelling, muscle tenderness, and muscle distress. As the body temperature falls due to cold temperature, vasoconstriction reduces strain on the cardiovascular system.
How to Take an Ice Bath?
Although most people consider ice baths safe, it’s important to know how to take an ice bath in the right way. Here is a guideline to take the dip in the right way that might help you reach your goals:
1. Fill the tub up to half with cold water
You may use a kiddie pool or large plastic tub instead of a bathtub for an ice bath. Turn on the tap or use a garden hose and wait for the cold water level to reach halfway on the side of the tub. Using cold water helps slow the melting process of ice. As the ice melts, it increases the volume of water in the tub.
2. Pour ice into water
You can use store-bought ice or ice from your freezer to fill up your tub. Add around 2.3 Kg of ice to the water to bring down its temperature to almost 13 to 16 degrees Celsius. Try to pour the ice into the water in small quantities. You can use a thermometer to inspect the temperature or dip your elbow to ensure your skin can tolerate the ice-cold water.
3. Ice bath after exercise
Ice baths are most effective if taken within 30 minutes of zealous exercise. This helps your body recuperate faster by minimizing swelling in the muscles.
4. Take a shower before an ice bath to maintain hygiene
Your body comes into contact with equipment, flooring, or terrain during an exercise. This exposure to bacteria and dirt can lead to a skin condition or increase the risk of infection unless you clean yourself with soap before getting in the bath.
5. Wear protective clothing
Wear protective clothing like swimming trunks, shorts, or briefs to protect the sensitive areas of your body. Toe warmers or booties made out of wetsuit material can avoid freezing of the feet. Wearing a sweatshirt can keep your upper body warm in case you’re planning to soak only the lower part of the body.
6. Slowly ease your body in the ice water
A quick touch of cold water can shock your nervous system and cause palpitations. Stay calm and start by dipping your feet, then slowly ease the rest of your lower body into the water. Sit on the side of the tub with just your feet submerged in the water and wait till your body can tolerate the chillness.
7. Dip your upper body into ice water
Submerge your body into the cold water to immerse your arms, shoulders, and chest. Stay under the water based on your comfort level, but do not exceed 15 minutes. Lift your body out of the water as soon as you feel too cold.
Possible Risks and Side Effects of Ice Baths
The most superficial and noticeable side effect of an ice bath is feeling intense cold apart from the other associated health risks. If you’re wondering if ice baths are good for you, here are some possible side effects associated with ice baths:
Submerging in the ice for a long time can lead to Hypothermia. People suffering from type 1 and type 2 diabetes cannot maintain the core body temperature during an ice bath as it involves extreme temperature changes.
2. Heart stroke or cardiac arrest
Ice can constricts the blood vessels and reduce the blood circulation in the body. Hence patients suffering from heart diseases or high blood pressure has higher chances of getting a stroke or a cardiac arrest with an ice bath.
3. Avoid ice bath in case of an open wound or recent surgery
Soaking an open wound or an area that has undergone surgery during an ice bath can spread bacteria from other parts of your body into the wound, increasing the chances of infection.
4. Avoid ice bath in case of frostbite
Ice baths need to be avoided if you have a history of frostbite as it may cause an injury by freezing the skin and underlying tissues.
5. Reduce usefulness of strength training
Post-exercise ice baths may cause reduced growth of muscles in the long term or even stunt muscle growth.
Things to Consider While Taking an Ice Bath
If you’re considering the cold treatment, here are some tips to keep in mind to make the ice bath experience more tolerable.
1. Temperature of the ice bath
The water temperature should be approximately 10-15° Celsius or 50-59° Fahrenheit.
2. Duration of the ice bath
Do not spend more than 10 to 15 minutes in the ice bath.
3. Exposure of body
Begin with exposing your feet and lower legs and then move towards the chest as you get comfortable with the cold water.
4. Ice bath at home
Use a thermometer to balance the right temperature of ice and water mixture in your tub. Gradually add ice if the water is too hot. Alternatively, add warm water if it’s too cold until you get the desired temperature.
5. Right timing
Immerse yourself in cold water within 30 minutes of a workout session to accelerate the healing and inflammatory processes.
A full-body cryotherapy chamber in an office set up for an ice bath can be quite expensive, ranging from $45 to $100 per session. However, it can help you take more controlled and monitored ice baths in a hygienic environment.
Moderation is a key factor while considering ice baths to promote healing. Constant exposure to ice baths can diminish its effectiveness. Despite little physiological evidence established by scientists to support whether or not ice bath theory is beneficial, some athletes find an ice bath extremely therapeutic. It is thus important to follow the recommended guidelines and make a smart decision about whether an ice bath is right for your body and tolerance level.