What Does An Ice Bath Do
If you’ve ever watched a professional athlete take a tumble or fall off their bike, there’s a good chance they got right up and kept on riding — even if it was only for a lap around the parking lot. The same can be said of people who get injured in action sports like football, hockey, skiing, skateboarding and BMX. They simply get back on the board and keep going. That’s because athletes understand how important speed is to performance, which means when an injury occurs, quick treatment is key.
One of the most common injuries that requires immediate medical attention is a broken bone. Bones are strong structures made up of rigid plates (called compacta) separated by connective tissues (called cortical bone). When bones come into contact with other objects, like furniture, cars, trees, walls, floors, etc., the impact causes force to act upon them. To prevent these impacts from damaging the bone, muscles attach the ends of bones to ligaments called collateral ligaments. Ligaments provide stability between bones and limit movement so that joints don’t become dislodged. In addition, many parts of our bodies have soft tissue coverings such as skin and muscle. As we age, our skin thins out and loses its elasticity, making us more susceptible to injury. Muscle mass also decreases over time, causing weaker limbs. This is why older adults generally move slower than younger ones.
When someone breaks a bone, the first thing they usually do is try to stabilize it at the location where it broke. For example, if your arm bone has been fractured, you’ll want to immobilize it to stop any further movement. If this isn’t possible, you may need to apply a cast to hold it in place until doctors can treat the fracture properly. Once the bone is stabilized, doctors will often prescribe medications to help reduce pain and inflammation while the body attempts to heal itself.
Another type of injury that affects millions of people is one that involves your feet. Your foot contains 26 bones, 33 joints and hundreds of muscles. These complex arrangements allow you to walk upright, run fast and leap tall buildings in a single bound. However, while this gives humans a competitive advantage over animals, all those moving parts can cause problems. One of the main issues is a condition known as plantar fasciitis. The plantar fascia is a band of fibrous tissue that runs along the bottom of your foot. It connects two large bones in your foot, namely the heel and toe bones. Plantar fasciitis happens when excess pressure builds up inside the arch during weight bearing activities like walking and running. Without proper treatment, chronic cases of plantar fasciitis can lead to inflammation, degeneration of the cartilage underneath the foot and a loss of function. Fortunately, scientists recently discovered a way to relieve the symptoms associated with plantar fasciitis using magnetic therapy.
In this article, we’re going to learn about what exactly the ice bath is used for, why it works and some of the side effects associated with ice baths. But before we dive in, let’s talk a little bit about heat and temperature regulation.
Heat Is Not Evil…but Too Much Of It Can Be Deadly
You might not think much about your core body temperature unless you live outside in extreme cold weather. Yet, without constant adjustments, this number can rise dramatically. When temperatures climb too high, cells swell, proteins denature and cell membranes lose water due to evaporation. All together, this results in cellular damage.
Your hypothalamus controls your internal thermostat by monitoring your core body temperature. It then sends messages to various areas of your brain, including the preoptic area, anterior hypothalamus and the lateral hypothalamus, which control the sweat glands, heart rate, blood pressure, respiration and metabolism. You can actually increase your core body temperature through exercise. During intense activity, your body releases hormones that trigger your sweat glands to release moisture. Sweating cools down the surface of our bodies by evaporating perspiration. So whether you’re trying to cool yourself down after exercising or you just feel hot, sweating helps lower your temperature.
However, if you continue to exert yourself beyond your normal limits, your core body temperature can go too low. Hypothermia is a major health risk. It occurs when your body’s core temperature drops below 95 degrees Fahrenheit (35 degrees Celsius). Severe hypothermia leads to shivering, unconsciousness, impaired reflexes, slurred speech and sometimes death. While milder forms of hypothermia aren’t necessarily life threatening, they are still dangerous. You can avoid hypothermia by staying hydrated, dressing warmly and maintaining a healthy diet. And speaking of diets, next we’ll learn about how food affects the effectiveness of an ice bath.
Food Affects How Well You Freeze
Ice baths work best when performed immediately following strenuous physical activity. When the body comes into contact with cold air, it begins to produce heat. In order to regulate its own temperature, the body tries to redistribute heat throughout its system. Because the head is typically warmer than the rest of the body, it becomes colder first. As a result, ice baths only work well for treating painful extremities. On the flipside, if you’re looking to improve circulation, ice baths won’t do the job either. Instead, you should use something else to achieve the same effect. A better option would be an external heating device.
While ice baths are effective at reducing swelling and helping the body recover from injury faster, they can also cause complications. For instance, ice baths are very harsh on your kidneys. After prolonged exposure, ice baths can dehydrate you. Additionally, ice baths can make your skin feel numb and tingly. Finally, ice baths may interfere with your ability to clot. Blood tends to pool beneath the skin rather than circulating normally throughout your body. Consequently, ice baths are contraindicated for patients suffering from certain conditions like Raynaud’s disease, sickle cell anemia and leukemia.
So now you know how ice baths work and how they affect your body. Next, we’ll discuss some of the potential benefits associated with ice baths.
Benefits Associated With Ice Baths
There’s no debate that ice baths are effective at relieving pain and swelling. However, it’s tough to say definitively whether they help muscles heal quicker. Some studies suggest ice baths aid recovery by stimulating collagen production. Collagen is a protein found in connective tissues that makes up a significant portion of your skin. When collagen levels decrease, your skin becomes thinner and drier. Another reason researchers believe ice baths could help with recovery is because it reduces the amount of inflammatory chemicals released by damaged cells. Inflammatory chemicals include prostaglandin E2, interleukin 6, tumor necrosis factor alpha and leukotriene B4. Together, these molecules boost immune response and promote healing.
On top of improving circulation, ice baths can also help increase flexibility. By limiting your range of motion, ice baths help strengthen surrounding muscles. Furthermore, since icing reduces swelling, ice baths are great ways to ease tight muscles. Lastly, research indicates that ice baths help reduce muscle spasms and contractions.
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