Cold therapy, which some may know as cryotherapy or cold-water immersion (CWI), involves one voluntarily subjecting themselves to subzero temperatures for therapeutic purposes. It might sound insane to Canadians, but we kid you not when we say that this practice has been around since before Jesus Christ. The beneficial effects of CWI on human physiology were first referenced by Edwin Smith Papyrus, a bloke who lived around 3500 BC. The fact that this practice has stuck whilst everything else has come and gone might speak much to its efficacy, wouldn’t you say?
Centuries ago, cold water immersion was used to treat various ailments and injuries, but that’s not all there’s to it. Today, I’ll walk you through an overview of its uses, procedures, risks, and benefits. Strap in!
Uses of Cold Therapy
Cold therapy is widely recognized for its numbing properties. If you’re a fan of contact sports, you’ve most probably seen physicians apply ice to your favorite player. It’s usually not for show. When ice is applied to the affected area, cold temperatures cause vasoconstriction, which narrows their blood vessels and reduces blood flow to that area. This reduction in blood flow helps to numb their nerve endings, resulting in a decrease in pain sensation. And now, your favorite player would be well enough to get on with the game. That, however, is not all cold therapy helps that player with. It also helps to decrease inflammation by inhibiting the release of certain chemicals that promote inflammation, alleviating pain associated with swollen tissues. It's commonly used for acute injuries such as sprains, strains, and bruises, providing immediate relief and facilitating the healing process.
Athletes often incorporate cold therapy into their post-exercise recovery routine to accelerate muscle recovery and reduce soreness. Haven’t we seen the likes of Michael Phelps, Messi, Usain Bolt, and more plunge into a cold bath after intense workouts? And the reason is suspect: Intense physical activity can cause microscopic damage to muscle fibers, resulting in inflammation and soreness. Cold therapy helps to mitigate this inflammation by constricting blood vessels and reducing blood flow to your muscles, in so doing decreasing swelling and pain. No one is going to be alarmed if, next time, after your intense gym session, they find you locked inside your refrigerator. Perhaps they might, but not if they find you in any of these cool plunge baths. The added benefit of using these plunge baths for cold therapy is that they facilitate the removal of metabolic waste products, such as lactic acid, from the muscles, which can contribute to faster recovery and reduced muscle fatigue.
Conditions such as arthritis, tendonitis, and bursitis involve inflammation of the joints or surrounding tissues, leading to pain, stiffness, and reduced mobility. Cold therapy is beneficial for managing these conditions because it reduces inflammation and numbs the nerves in the affected joints. By applying cold packs or immersing those joints in cold water, you can experience relief from pain and swelling, allowing for improved joint function and mobility. Cold therapy can be particularly effective during acute flare-ups of arthritis or following strenuous activities that aggravate joint pain.
Migraines are severe headaches characterized by the kind of intense throbbing pain you wouldn’t wish on your worst foe. They’re often accompanied by nausea, sensitivity to light and sound, and other neurological symptoms, all of which give you an unsolicited taste of hell on earth. Cold therapy can provide relief from migraines by numbing the nerves in the head and neck region, reducing blood flow to the brain, and constricting blood vessels in the scalp. Some people apply cold packs or ice packs to the forehead, temples, or back of the neck to help assuage migraine symptoms and provide a sense of comfort and relaxation. Cold therapy is every so often used in conjunction with other migraine treatments, such as medication and lifestyle modifications, to manage symptoms effectively, something you’d do well to remember.
Cold therapy is beneficial for various skin conditions, including sunburn, insect bites, itching, and allergic reactions. Have you met those people with skin as smooth as a baby’s bottom, and when you probe them for which creams or lotions they use, they swear never to have used anything? It’s likely they’re not lying to your face. When applied to the skin, cold temperatures vasoconstrict your vessels, which reduces blood flow to the affected area and eases inflammation and swelling. Cold packs or cool compresses can provide immediate relief from pain and discomfort associated with sunburn or insect bites by numbing the nerve endings in the skin. If we know anything about the skin, it doesn’t do well with such things. Cold therapy helps to soothe itching and irritation. It’s rather hell to get itched in forbidden places whilst in public, isn’t it? There’s no way you’re going to stretch your arm to scratch it because then everyone is going to think you’re a pervert, and no one will ever shake your hand at that networking event. Cryotherapy provides a calming effect on the skin and promotes healing. Cold therapy is a safe and natural approach to skincare that can complement other topical treatments and remedies for skin conditions that you have tucked away in your bathroom cabin.
Benefits of Cold Therapy
Engaging in cold therapy requires mental discipline and resilience to withstand discomfort and overcome the natural self-preservation, in this case, aversion to cold temperatures. Regular exposure to cold stimulates the autonomic nervous system, which regulates involuntary bodily functions, including the body's response to stress. By deliberately exposing yourself to cold stressors, you can actually strengthen your mental sturdiness and adaptability, something the Navy SEALS will tell you much about. Cold therapy, over time, enables you to better cope with adversity and thrive in challenging environments. It also serves as a form of "stress inoculation," where controlled exposure to mild stressors helps to build resilience and boost your psychological well-being over time.
Cold therapy has mood-enhancing effects due to its impact on neurotransmitter activity and hormonal balance. Exposure to cold temperatures stimulates the release of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that regulates mood, sleep, and appetite. Increased serotonin levels contribute to feelings of happiness, relaxation, and emotional well-being. I mean, have you been around someone who regularly has a cold plunge bath? They’re usually as high-spirited as a kid on coffee. And that’s not all there is; cold therapy also triggers the release of dopamine, another neurotransmitter associated with pleasure, reward, and motivation. By promoting the release of these "feel-good" neurotransmitters, cold therapy can help to improve mood, reduce feelings of depression and anxiety, and enhance overall psychological resilience.
Reduction of Inflammation
Inflammation is a natural response of the immune system to injury or infection, but an excess of it or chronic inflammation can contribute to various health problems, including pain, tissue damage, and disease. Cold therapy effectively reduces inflammation by constricting blood vessels and decreasing your blood flow to the affected area. This constriction of blood vessels helps to limit the release of inflammatory mediators and cytokines, that way mitigating the inflammatory response.
Enhanced Endurance and Performance
Sportspersons and fitness buffs utilize cold therapy to augment endurance, performance, and recovery. By reducing muscle soreness, fatigue, and inflammation, cold therapy enables athletes to train more intensely and recover more quickly between sessions. This allows athletes to achieve peak performance levels and optimize their training regimens for maximum results. Additionally, cold therapy may improve exercise tolerance and delay the onset of fatigue during prolonged or high-intensity workouts, leading to improved athletic performance and overall fitness.
Increased Alertness and Focus
As earlier expounded on, cold exposure triggers the sympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for the body's "fight or flight" response to stressors. Just this activation alone leads to increased alertness, heightened sensory perception, and improved cognitive function. In several studies, cold therapy has been shown to increase mental clarity, concentration, and focus, making it a valuable tool for boosting productivity and performance in various tasks that require reasoning. By stimulating the release of dopamine and norepinephrine, cold therapy allows you to stay as sharp as a razor blade and focused even under challenging conditions, your wit slicing through the room, leaving everyone in awe.
Risks of Cold Therapy
Tissue Damage: Prolonged exposure to cold temperatures can lead to frostbite or tissue damage. My advice? Follow the recommended guidelines and do not apply cold therapy for too long.
Nerve Damage: Extreme cold can temporarily numb nerves, leading to temporary loss of sensation in the affected area. You will likely be divorced if your spouse tries to cuddle and caress you only to feel nothing at all.
Skin Irritation: Some people may experience skin irritation or redness after cold therapy, particularly if the cold pack is applied directly to the skin without a barrier. Nothing life-threatening, just a little irritation, which you may not like.
Avoid Prolonged Exposure: It's essential to avoid prolonged exposure to cold temperatures, as this can lead to adverse effects such as frostbite or tissue damage. Follow the recommended guidelines for the duration of cold therapy sessions. Usually, 15 minutes tops cut it.
Use a Barrier: When applying cold packs directly to the skin, always use a barrier such as a towel or cloth to prevent direct contact, which can reduce the risk of skin irritation or frostbite.
Monitor Sensation: Pay attention to any changes in sensation during cold therapy. If you experience numbness, tingling, or discomfort, remove the cold pack immediately and allow the area to warm up.
Consult a Professional: If you have any underlying health conditions or concerns about the appropriateness of cold therapy for your situation, consult with a healthcare professional before starting treatment.
In a Nutshell?
Cold therapy packs a punch as a flexible and powerful solution for a plethora of issues, spanning from sudden sprains to lingering discomfort and swelling. When applied judiciously and with due diligence, it can deliver substantial comfort and bolster the body's inherent recovery mechanisms. Nevertheless, it's imperative to employ cold treatment with care and to consult a healthcare expert if necessary for optimal and secure healing. You can always DM us on 𝕏 [formerly Twitter] for any questions or comment below.