Cold water emersion (CWI), also known as cold water therapy, has been used for centuries to treat ailments like muscle pains and joint pain due to arthritis. Read about the benefits of cold water immersion. You can also use it to relieve stress and tension in the back, neck, and shoulder muscles – all without needing to leave your home!
It also has other benefits, including relaxation and stress relief, better sleep, and faster healing. In this article, we’ll explore these benefits in more detail, so you can decide if cold water therapy could be right for you.
What is Cold Water Immersion Therapy?
Cold water immersion (CWI) is a form of cold hydrotherapy and a method of sensory deprivation that was popularized in the 1970s. CWI is used for various purposes, including relaxation, stress relief, treating pain, and reducing inflammation, among other medical conditions. CWI is also used as a form of physical rehabilitation.
The user submerges their body in cold water for a set duration, usually around 10-20 minutes. The cold temperature causes a decrease in heart rate and blood pressure, which can lead to feelings of tranquillity and peace.
The therapy is usually done in a pool but can also be performed in a tub. You simply fill in the tab then add some ice cubes.
People take a bath or shower, then immerse themselves in cold water, around 59°F (15°C). The water should be cold enough to cause some discomfort but not so cold that it causes vomiting or confusion.
Benefits of Cold Water Immersion
1. May boost immunity
Cold therapy as a way of boosting immunity is something that has been done since ancient times, and there’s growing evidence to suggest that cold water immersion may indeed boost immunity.
A study published in the journal Frontiers in Immunology found that daily cold water immersion for six weeks increased the immune system’s ability to fight off infection by up to 40%.
While there are a few potential reasons why cold water immersion may be beneficial for boosting immunity, one theory suggests that it may work because it challenges our body’s natural tendency to keep itself warm.
When we’re immersed in cold water, our core temperature begins to drop, which challenges our body’s natural response of seeking warmth and energy.
This can lead to an increase in your natural killer cell activity. Natural killer cells play an important role in immunity by helping destroy infected cells.
In a study published in The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, researchers found that cold water immersion increased NK cell activity by 30% compared to baseline levels.
Cold therapy also increases anti-inflammatory chemicals, with few pro-inflammatory cytokines, all of which are involved in fighting infection.
Another study suggests that exposure to cold water over a period of weeks or months could boost antitumor immunity.
So if you’re looking for a way to boost your immune system, consider dipping into cold waters once or twice a week!
2. Alleviates pain
Cold water immersion is a common treatment for reducing pain in the body. It has been shown to be an effective treatment for a variety of conditions, including back pain, neck pain, and headaches.
Cold water immersion therapy works by decreasing inflammation and pain in the body. This is because cold temperatures numb the skin and reduce the sensitivity to pain stimuli, allowing the person to rest more easily and heal faster.
Also, the cold temperature sends electrical impulses to the brain, causing it to release endorphins, hormones that promote happiness. Endorphins have also been shown to block pain signals from reaching the brain.
Additionally, cold water causes the blood vessels to constrict, reducing the amount of blood flowing to the area causing pain. This reduction in blood flow can reduce the amount of pain felt.
3. May ease depression symptoms
Depression is a mental disorder that causes intense sadness and feelings of hopelessness.
People with depression may have difficulty concentrating, sleeping, eating, and losing weight.
They may also have problems with their relationships, work, and hobbies.
In addition to other strategies to improve depression, regularly immersing yourself in cold water has been shown to help.
In one study, a 24-year-old woman who had lived with anxiety and symptoms of major depressive disorder since she was 17 experienced major improvement in her depressive symptoms following a weekly cold water swimming.
With each session, she experienced a sustained reduction in the symptoms, which was then followed by a decrease in her medications, and a year later, she was off the medicine.
In another study published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, researchers found that participants who received cold water therapy for eight weeks reported improvements in their moods, feelings of happiness, and relaxation.
In that study, participants were divided into two groups. One group was given standard treatment for depression, which included antidepressant medication and cognitive behavioral therapy. The other group received the same treatment plus cold water therapy.
Results showed that the group that received cold water therapy showed more remarkable mood improvement than the group that received standard treatment only.
The cold water therapy also helped reduce anxiety and stress levels in those who received it.
Since cold water therapy is a relatively new treatment option, more research is needed to confirm these findings. However, if you are experiencing symptoms of depression, it might be worth trying out cold water therapy as an alternative to traditional treatments.
4. Eases post-workout muscle soreness
Post-workout muscle soreness (PWMS) is the most common type of muscle pain among athletes or anyone who works out and is typically felt 24 to 48 hours after a strenuous workout.
It is usually caused by micro tears in the muscles and can be felt as a tight, aching feeling in the muscles.
PWMS can be treated with ice, compression therapy, massage, and rest. Cold water therapy has also been shown to be an effective treatment for PWMS.
Cold water immersion therapy is effective in reducing inflammation and pain, as well as improving rehabilitation outcomes.
When you plunge into a cold bath or shower, the sudden chill sends shock waves through your entire body. These waves cause your internal organs to contract and send shivers down your spine. Your muscles are then chilled more quickly than if you had taken a warm shower or bath, which helps reduce inflammation and pain.
According to a study involving twenty healthy athletes, soaking in cold water improved their muscle soreness more than those who didn’t engage in it.
5. Fights inflammation
Cold water therapy is a powerful natural anti-inflammatory agent.
When applied directly to the skin, cold water has been shown to reduce inflammation in the skin, muscles, and joints.
This is because cold water reduces blood flow and swelling. That’s why cold water therapy can help relieve inflammatory conditions like arthritis.
Arthritis is a condition where the joints become inflamed, stiff, and painful.
Cold water therapy has been shown to be a very effective treatment for arthritis, as it relieves pain and reduces inflammation and swelling in the affected joints.
In addition to reducing inflammation in the joints, cold water therapy can also improve other symptoms associated with arthritis, such as stiffness and decreased mobility.
When done regularly, this therapy can help patients live more comfortable lives without taking medication or undergoing surgery.
Can cold water immersion help with weight loss?
Some studies have shown that cold water immersion may increase metabolism, a process by which the body breaks down food to extract nutrients and convert them into energy.
Metabolism has also been shown to promote calorie burning leading to weight loss; however, weight loss from cold water therapy alone needs more research before it can be confirmed.
That being said, it can be a great addition to other weight loss efforts like healthy eating, exercise, and stress management.
Adverse effects of cold water immersion
1. Cold shock
Cold shock is a response to sudden exposure to cold temperatures that can sometimes be fatal.
Symptoms include shivering, confusion and disorientation, rapid heart rate, and low blood pressure.
If left untreated, cold shock can increase your risk of drowning. Research also shows that cold shock can sometimes result in death even before an individual develops general hypothermia.
2. Cold urticaria
Cold water immersion can cause cold urticaria or hives. This is a type of rash that most often occurs when the skin is exposed to cold temperatures.
It’s characterized by itching and welts that peak within minutes and dissipate within hours.
For some individuals, cold urticaria can also occur when the body comes into contact with cold liquids or food.
These reactions can be mild or severe and can occur even when using cold water to cool down after exercise or in the summertime.
There is no known cure for this condition, but treatments include:
- Warming the affected area.
- Using antihistamines to relieve symptoms.
- Using cooling baths or showers to reduce tension in the skin.
Prevention includes avoiding exposure to cold temperatures and using appropriate clothing when outside in cold weather.
3. It can make asthma worse
Evidence suggests that cold water therapy can trigger symptoms in asthmatic patients.
This is because the cold water shocks the body, and as the vessels constrict, it can create a narrowing of airways.
In one study, researchers found that nearly half of asthmatics experienced an exacerbation of their condition after participating in a cold water immersion challenge.
People with asthma should speak to their doctor before participating in any challenges or activities that could be potentially dangerous to their health, including cold water immersion.
4. Cold incapacitation
Cold incapacitation is a life-threatening medical emergency that occurs when the body’s muscles are too weak to function adequately. If you are rafting or swimming in cold water and experience the feeling of being uncoordinated, you may be experiencing cold incapacitation.
Muscle weakness is caused by an inability of the muscles to produce enough force or speed. In cold water immersion, these muscles cannot generate enough heat to maintain blood flow and tissue function, leading to paralysis in the limbs.
Cold water immersion can also decrease heart rate and respiration, which can further reduce the body’s thermal reserve, making you more likely to drown.
Cold water immersion can cause cramps, especially if the person is already dehydrated. When the body experiences a sudden drop in temperature, it causes a shock to the system. This can cause muscles to contract involuntarily and could lead to cramps.
6. After drop
An after drop is a cooling of the core temperature even after you have gotten out of the water.
Usually, when you come out of the water, you may feel cold but not freezing. However, a few minutes later, your body can begin to shiver. Some people may become faint or unwell.
This is because the return of cold blood from your extremities to your core decreases your body’s overall temperature before it can start to rise back up. Your core temperature regulates everything else in your body – including how much energy you have or how much heat you can produce. So when it starts to fall, everything else starts to follow suit.
How long should you do cold water therapy?
The length of time you spend in the cold water depends on various factors, including how cold your water is, how often you submerge, age, fitness level, health conditions, and personal preferences.
Usually, doing CWM for 10-15 minutes per day, 2-3 times a week, is generally adequate to reap its benefits.
The goal is to gradually ease yourself into immersion and work up to longer sessions as needed. If this feels too overwhelming, start with shorter durations of just five minutes and work your way up.
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If you have a chronic inflammatory illness or want to feel better overall, adding cold water immersion therapy to your routine could help.
Cold water therapy is a great way to boost your immune system and relieve pain among other benefits.
If you’re ready to try cold water therapy, be sure to take the necessary precautions. If you have an underlying condition that can get worse with the therapy, seek your doctor’s advice.
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