😰 Can ice baths really improve your health?

😰 Ice baths can help relieve pain but also have other benefits

😰 But there are some potential risks of ice baths

Ice baths, also known as cold water immersion or cryotherapy, typically operate as a recovery method for athletes to relieve aches and pain.

But ice baths have a lot of benefits that go beyond the traditional exercise recovery benefits, prompting interest in them among the general population.

Since the beginning of time, healthcare providers have used ice as a way to treat pain and inflammation, said Dr. Jorge Corzo, medical director of rehab services at The Johnson Rehab Institute at Riverview Medical Center in Red Bank.

“In current society, most of us are trying to alleviate our aches, our pains, our discomfort, stay vibrant, stay young, and this is where some of the potential benefits of ice baths or cold water immersion may be producing this phenomenon where everyone is jumping on the bandwagon,” Corzo said.

Bill Spadea on ice (Townsquare Media NJ)
Bill Spadea on ice (Townsquare Media NJ)

What are some of the benefits of ice baths?

Corzo said cold water immersion has been shown to increase libido, increase feelings of well-being, reduce pain, reduce the inflammatory response to the muscles and tissues, help reduce exercise recovery time, help with muscle aches, help repair muscles, help reduce lactic acid, help with stress management, decreases fatigue, controls pain, boost mood, and improve glycemic control for those with diabetes.

When someone enters an ice bath, there is the release of endorphins.

“Endorphins, I like to describe as tiny little Percocets,” Corzo said. They are naturally occurring chemicals within the body that are known as “feel-good molecules.” They help control pain, mood, and behavior.

That type of response which translates into people’s everyday lives is what encourages many individuals to look at something like ice baths as a treatment protocol, he said.

(Breathing Dragon Yoga)
(Breathing Dragon Yoga)

What are some of the risks of ice baths?

Before taking an ice bath, Corzo said it’s very important to consult with a doctor, especially for those who have pre-existing health conditions.

Think about when you’ve taken a cold shower. You lose your breath for a second but then you slip into that euphoric feeling, Corzo said.

But, if an individual has cardiac arrhythmia, then going into an ice bath with that initial cold shock effect can be detrimental, he explained.

Another example involves peripheral vascular disease. This is people who have poor circulation.

Spadea ice challenge
Spadea ice challenge

One of the ways that ice baths help is that it constricts the blood vessels, so therefore, when someone goes into something like that after exercise, it reduces the inflammation and some of the pain and discomfort by reducing the blood flow.

But Corzo said if you’re someone who has poor circulation, the one thing you don’t want to do is reduce blood flow, so an ice bath may not be the best course of action to help reduce pain and inflammation.

Ice baths also have the potential to cause hypothermia, drowning, cold shock, cognitive impairment, and loss of muscular control in the extremities.

Don’t mix other sedatives or stimulants with cold water immersion and avoid alcohol, Corzo said.

Ice bath (Canva)
Ice bath (Canva)

How should one first take an ice bath?

Never take an ice bath alone. You don’t know how the body will react. So, start off slowly, especially if it’s the first time, he said.

Put a bit of water into a bathtub and add ice. Immerse the lower part of the body to start off, and not the entire body to see what the reaction might be, he said.

With an ice bath, Corzo said the sweet zone for the temperature should be between 50 and 60 degrees. It should never be below 50 degrees.

It should never be longer than 15 minutes. Start off slow. Do a minute, then two minutes, then one to five minutes, until the body is acclimated to the situation, Corzo said.

“Make sure you know everything you can before taking the plunge, and follow the suggestions your doctor gives you. Ice baths can be an exciting experience, but your safety regarding your health comes first,” Corzo said.

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