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Ice baths - beneficial or just cruel?

By Holly Brasher

Holly recently spoke to GQ magazine on the potential health benefits, dangers and myths surrounding cold water therapies such as ice baths, cryotherapy and more. 

Whilst medical science is not supportive of the latest crazes in freezing yourself and similar Holly talked about the use of cold water, warm water and contrast (hot/cold) water immersion that is common among sporting teams as a recovery method. Are they helpful? Or just cruel…
Why use Ice baths (cold water immersion)?
Cold water immersion has been shown to improve performance for the second bout of exercise of the day (after the cold water) - mainly for endurance events (and not sprint events).  For example: a tournament where players are playing twice in one day. Subjectively people feel less tired and less sore following cold water immersion and this may be a factor. The hydrostatic pressure created from immersion can also assist swelling and therefore is popular with contact sports. A great example of a good use of ice baths would be following games in a Rugby 7’s tournament where more than one game is played per day.
Are there any dangers to undertaking these methods?
There is a level of body temperature that cold therapy becomes detrimental to performance rather than a performance enhancer. It is suggested not going under 10 degrees. I would assume there may be some dangers associated with cryotherapy and the length of time a person is exposed. Similarly, for contrast therapy, due to using hot water, care should be taken in hot and humid environments.
Is embarking in cold water therapy as simple as running an ice bath at home, or should you in fact look to more established methods?
The most effective has been shown to be 15 degrees Celsius for at least 5 mins and no more than 20 mins. Although overall there is not too much difference in results between 15-20 degrees so if you don't have access to really cold water (i.e. Ice) then 20 degrees (tap water) would actually be fine. Different temperatures have been shown to be effective for recovery for different types of exercise. Cold water is more effective post non-impact, concentric and high intensity exercise. Contrast therapy (Cold 15 degrees and hot 38 degrees: 7 x 1 min swaps) is better post eccentric exercise.
Are there any other benefits?
Reducing your core temperature has also been shown to help aid sleep. So, running your shower cold at the end of your shower for as long as possible before bed will help send you off at night. (the same happened when you increase your core temperature by a few degrees so in cold weather a hot shower is also beneficial for aiding sleep).
SquareOne Physio is no stranger to treating high level athletes whose training programs include things such as ice baths. If you would like any information on how to improve your performance in your chosen sport we would be more than happy to answer your questions. 

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