The human body instinctually wants to protect itself from cold so why is it that people are intentionally defying their instincts and jumping into cold therapies? The reason is simple in that it works to reduce muscle soreness, increase circulation, and fire off endorphins. Cold therapies are generally used to treat inflammation as opposed to hot therapies that are used to increase blood flow. By using the body’s instincts, it triggers its healing system and delivers oxygenated blood back into the body. Although there are quite a variety of cold therapies used for both medicinal and therapeutic purposes, this article will explore three main types: cold showers, ice baths, and cryotherapy.
The easiest one to implement and costs you nothing, a cold shower is something you can get started within your existing routine today. To be considered a “cold shower” the temperature needs to be below 70 degrees for at least three to five minutes. This method is touted to help invigorate you and speed up muscle recovery. While easy to implement (just turn a knob!) the downside is that is it also easy to give into instinct and stop (turn the knob again!). That invigorating feeling, although great during the day, may keep you awake if you take cold showers at night.
Most people equate ice baths with what they see on TV when athletes slip into a tub after a hard workout. The look on their face and that sharp inhale when they get in lets you know that it’s cold! Generally, ice baths are cold-water tubs filled with ice to get the temperature down to 50 – 59 degrees. Lasting from 10 to 20 minutes, they help with muscle soreness and the body will begin to numb after a couple of minutes, but it can be a double-edged sword. They are not recommended for anyone with a heart condition and may make tight or stiff muscles worse.
Cryotherapy is a process where super-cold nitrogen is circulated your body at extremely low temperatures, up to -200 degrees for a short burst of time, about 3 minutes. The cold is designed to pull blood into the core then deliver super-oxygenated blood back into the body after the session. As with the other therapies, it is great for reducing inflammation, increase endorphins, and has an added benefit of increasing immunization. Unlike the other therapies, this only lasts three minutes, you stay dry, and the temperature is gradually reduced. As with ice baths, it is not recommended for anyone with a heart condition and gloves/socks need to be worn to reduce the likelihood of frostbite.
So, which is right for you? If you are looking for a quick solution that you can incorporate into an existing routine, cold showers maybe something to start to implement within your morning routine. You will get the invigorated feeling and experience benefit if you can have the self-discipline not to turn that knob back up! Ice baths are something you can do at home if you have several bags of ice, time on your hands, and that initial dunk is going to be a bit shocking to the body but does provide relief from muscle soreness. Cryotherapy is a great alternative to ice baths in that it is much faster, keeps you dry, and steps down in temperature. This process does come at a cost but can be found in several locations in and around Nashville where packages are offered to help reduce the per-visit cost.
If you think you are ready to defy instincts to get relief from soreness and amp up those endorphins, incorporating cold therapy is worth the effort.
Kenny Bailey is the owner of The Recovery Lounge in Nashville.
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