What Are Ice Baths Good For
You’re standing on the edge of a frozen lake in sub-zero temperatures when you hear the announcement — it’s time to go into the frigid water! You jump in feet first, feeling exhilarated by the coolness of the water against your skin. But after about 10 minutes, you start to feel cramped up, and your brain is telling you that something isn’t right. What happened?
The answer lies in how quickly your body heats itself up from the inside out. When you were immersed in those icy waters, your core temperature was actually dropping rather than rising because heat was escaping through your exposed skin. As soon as you removed yourself from the cold water, your blood vessels dilated (widened) to allow more heat to be distributed throughout your body. The result was muscle cramps and chills.
In other words, if you want to avoid this type of uncomfortable experience, you need to treat your whole body like an ice cube tray — keep it cold at all times. This means wearing long sleeves, pants, gloves, socks, a hat, and goggles to protect your eyes.
This article will explain why ice baths are good for you by explaining what happens during cold exposure, how they work, and exactly what goes on in your body while you’re submerged in freezing water. We’ll also take a look at some alternative uses for these therapy sessions. Read on to find out what makes ice baths so effective.
During cold exposure, your heart works harder than usual to pump oxygen-rich blood around your body. At the same time, your lungs pull in carbon dioxide from your bloodstream and expel it back into the air. To prevent hypoxia (a shortage of oxygen), your blood pressure drops temporarily as low as 25 percent of its normal level. Your blood vessels constrict to limit heat loss from your core to maintain this lower pressure. Even though you may not notice any symptoms, your body is working overtime to keep everything running smoothly.
How Do Ice Baths Work?
An ice bath is simply a large container filled with very cold water. A person who takes an ice bath sits or kneels in the water and immerses his or her entire body except for head, hands, and feet. Some people use special devices such as tubs shaped like giant soup bowls; others just roll up their shirtsleeves over their heads and sit in the water. People usually stay in the ice bath for anywhere from 15 seconds to several hours.
Ice baths have many benefits. First, they help relieve soreness caused by exercise and injury. Second, they provide relief for rheumatic conditions such as arthritis, fibromyalgia, and muscular pain. They can even ease headaches and sinus problems. And third, they promote relaxation and relieve anxiety and stress.
But the most common reason people enjoy taking ice baths is to aid in post-exercise recovery. After exercising, your muscles become fatigued and lose their ability to contract. If you stop your workout abruptly, your muscles could tear themselves apart instead of repairing themselves properly. Ice baths can help soften the fibers within your muscles and make them easier to massage away lactic acid buildup. Since muscles contain natural antigens called macromolecules, they normally don’t respond well to drugs or injections but do react well to ice packs. In fact, professional athletes often use ice baths before and after strenuous workouts to relax muscles and speed up recovery.
Read on to learn how ice baths can help you breathe better.
If you’ve ever had the pleasure of sitting in a warm Jacuzzi tub, then you know that warmth feels great. So why would we willingly get into freezing cold water? One reason is that the sensation of being cold stimulates our “fight or flight” response. Our bodies prepare us for action by causing blood vessels to widen, blood flow to increase, and the heart rate to quicken. All of these reactions occur whether we’re facing danger or just relaxing at home. However, the effects of cold exposure are much stronger than those produced by hot water.
Can I Use Ice Instead of Heat?
Yes, you can. Ice reduces swelling and promotes faster circulation by slowing down capillary fluid exchange. That’s why doctors prescribe ice packs to patients suffering from edema (swelling). Ice also reduces pain and stiffness. Just apply the ice directly to the affected area. Never put ice on healthy tissue surrounding injured areas.
A lot of people wonder why someone wouldn’t just wear a wet suit when going into an ice bath. There are two main reasons. First, if you wear a wet suit, you’ll still end up sweating anyway. Plus, if you wear a wet suit, you won’t be able to swim for extended periods of time without drying off. Also, once you remove your wet suit, you’ll be shivering uncontrollably until your core temp rises enough to generate heat naturally. Finally, if you wear a wet suit, you’ll risk getting frostbite on one hand. Not only is frostbite painful, but it can cause gangrene and even amputation.
Now that you understand how ice baths work, read on to see why you might consider using them outside of sports training.
One way to measure an ice bath’s effectiveness is to compare how you feel 30 minutes after the treatment versus how you felt before beginning the session. If the latter is significantly worse than the former, then the ice bath worked. Of course, there are exceptions to every rule, so remember to test each individual situation.
Alternate Uses for Ice Baths
Aside from improving athletic performance, ice baths are useful tools for relieving fatigue, boosting energy, and reducing tension. Here are some examples of alternate uses:
Fatigue: Take an ice bath after a day full of physical activity. Or take small amounts of ice chips mixed with fresh lemon juice and drink daily.
Boost Energy: Try soaking in an ice bath for 20 minutes. Then raise your arms above your head and hold for another minute. Repeat this three times.
Relieve Tension: While seated in an ice bath, focus on slow, deep breaths. Count to four on each inhale and exhale. Once you reach 4, hold your breath for five counts. Continue this process until you reach 16 counts per breath. Continue for 45 minutes.
Treat Fibromyalgia: Fill a tub with 3 inches of warm water and add 1/2 cup salt. Let it come to room temperature. Put your patient into the tub, face down, and immerse him or her in the water for 5 minutes. Afterward, rub the patient’s back with a towel soaked in rubbing alcohol. Repeat this procedure once a week.
For more information on ice baths and related topics, explore the links on the following page.
While an ice bath helps to lessen swelling in joints, it doesn’t do anything to repair cartilage damage. To rebuild cartilage, your doctor should recommend a specific regimen of exercises and treatments.
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