Brrrr – Benefits of Ice Therapy (Should You Try It?)

Have you seen athletes bathing in ice water? Maybe it seemed a little crazy to you, so why would athletes think this practice is beneficial? The answer relates to how both ice and heat can simulate the body for repair. Both ice and heat are commonly used to relieve muscle or joint pain and can help reduce inflammation and numb areas where you may be injured.  

The very first cold therapy apparatus was introduced in 1851 at the Great Exhibition in London. While this particular device failed to get cold enough to achieve its purpose, it introduced a new method of alleviating muscle pain and inflammation. 

Cryotherapy remains common today and is often used by professional athletes to decrease swelling following intense exercise or muscle injury. The primary purpose of cryotherapy is to lower the temperature of injured tissue, which then helps reduce the metabolic rate of the tissue so it helps the tissue survive during the period following the injury. This practice, when combined with static compression (a technique of firmly wrapping the injured area with specialized garments or devices), can help reduce swelling to the afflicted area.  

However, cryotherapy isn’t just for athletes! Applying a cold compress or taking an ice bath is commonly recommended following many types of surgical procedures. In addition, bruises and sprains can be soothed by cold therapy, and some evidence suggestions that it can help speed up healing times.1 Cold therapy can also help common pains such as headaches and migraines, as well as dermatitis (skin inflammation) and other skin conditions. Drinking cold water is known to speed up your metabolic rate as well, since your body has to work hard to stay warm in frigid water. Ice baths and cold showers can help boost fat-burning abilities, giving you one more reason to try cryotherapy. 

In addition to these benefits, cold water may also be able to increase the body’s tolerance to stress and disease. "Hardening” is the intentional exposure of your body to a natural stimulus, such as cold water, that can help your body tolerate stress better. One study showed that exposure to cold could even boost levels of glutathione (a key antioxidant and free radical scavenger in the body) following exposure to cold stimulus.

If you dare, you can enjoy the benefits of cryotherapy in several ways. If the afflicted area is small, simply wrap some ice in a clean towel and rest the ice pack on the area. You can make an ice bath by running cold water and filling the bath with a sufficient amount of ice to keep the water cold, or you can use a smaller container to soak your wrists, hands, feet, or ankles. In addition, there are several cold therapy products such as ice wraps or cold compression products available for various pain points.  

However, please be aware that there are a few instances where it is not recommended to use ice therapy. Cryotherapy should be avoided immediately before exercise or if there is an open wound or skin compromise (such as stretched, blistered, burned, or thin skin). Ice packs should only be used for 20 – 30 minutes to avoid the risk of frostbite.  

If you frequently experience muscle or joint pain after exercise, try adding ice therapy to your recovery routine. You may find that this method helps relieve those pesky, post-workout pains. You might end up enjoying this refreshing method!  

Resources

  1. https://www.brownmed.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/IQ_Cryotherapy.pdf 
  2. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/0891584994900302