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Cold Exposure Therapy

April 21, 2023

Do you remember those dreadful ice baths in your high school athletic trainer’s office? You shivered, you cursed under your breath, and you counted down the seconds until you could get out of the icy water. Well, this type of recovery is making a big splash in the health, fitness, and wellness world.

No longer do you just fill a tub with a bag of ice from the grocery store. From cold showers, cold tubs, and full body cryotherapy machines, there are many ways to unlock the benefits of cold exposure. Whether you are an athlete looking to gain that competitive edge or an active adult trying to maximize your wellness, read along to find out how the bitter cold can help you feel, perform, and live better.

How does cold exposure work?

The science of full body cold exposure is much different than that of placing an ice pack on a localized region of the body. When submerging oneself in a tub of cold water or in a cryotherapy chamber, a systemic reaction occurs. Hormones are released to regulate body temperature and are delivered throughout the body via the circulatory system. This mechanism produces a potent stimulus for exercise recovery and performance (3).

How do I perform cold exposure effectively?

As previously stated, there are many modalities that deliver the benefits of cold exposure. The most heavily researched being cold water immersion. Cold water immersion is the classic cold bath that is popularly seen in athletic training facilities and locker rooms. Research has shown that just 11 minutes a week of cold baths, ice baths, or cold-water immersion demonstrates benefits in reducing muscle soreness, and exercise recovery (2).

Whole body cryotherapy chambers are another means of cold immersion. This modality uses nitrogen to produce cold vapors that induce a whole-body cold stimulus. Due to the extreme temperatures, time in the chambers is typically limited (1).

Cold showers are another option to freeze yourself in the name of fitness and recovery. However, this method is not as heavily researched and the key is to bring the water temperature below 60 deg Fahrenheit (2).

Cold exposure can be an excellent way to improve exercise recovery, decrease muscle soreness, and be an adjunct to your recovery protocol. Due to the potency of cold temperatures, be sure to consult with your physician, or health care provider prior to starting a new cold exposure program. We hope that after reading this article you have a better understanding of the purpose, science, and application of cold exposure therapy.

Movement is Vital for a healthy body and Your Body is a Force to be reckoned with,

Dr. Bryan Vranic, PT, DPT, CSCS, CF-L1, Cert-CMFA

If interested in whole body cryotherapy, check out our local friends at Arctic Blast Cryo! They help athletes and active individuals recover and get out of pain with the power of cold!

References

1. Banfi, Giuseppe & Melegati, Gianluca & Barassi, Alessandra & Dogliotti, Giada & d’Eril, Gianvico & DUGUE, Benoit & Corsi Romanelli, Massimiliano. (2009). Effects of whole-body cryotherapy on serum mediators of inflammation and serum muscle enzymes in athletes. Journal of Thermal Biology. 34. 55-59. 10.1016/j.jtherbio.2008.10.003.

2. Huberman, A. (2023, April 3). The Science & Use of Cold Exposure for Health & Performance. Huberman Lab. Retrieved April 20, 2023, from https://hubermanlab.com/the-science-and-use-of-cold-exposure-for-health-and-performance/

3. Moore E, Fuller JT, Buckley JD, Saunders S, Halson SL, Broatch JR, Bellenger CR. Impact of Cold-Water Immersion Compared with Passive Recovery Following a Single Bout of Strenuous Exercise on Athletic Performance in Physically Active Participants: A Systematic Review with Meta-analysis and Meta-regression. Sports Med. 2022 Jul;52(7):1667-1688. doi: 10.1007/s40279-022-01644-9. Epub 2022 Feb 14. PMID: 35157264; PMCID: PMC9213381.

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