8 Pros And Cons Of Ice Bathing
Last updated on : February 21 2023
Ice bathing is widely practiced by athletes, particularly after a strenuous workout. It involves submerging the body in ice-cold water to help relieve soreness, lessen tissue breakdown and swelling, and improve healing.
While some studies might not support ice bathing as a health benefit, indirect research suggests it could be advantageous. Ice baths help the body flush out metabolic waste, increase blood flow and nutrient supply to the cells, and reduce inflammation, promoting sports performance and reducing muscle damage.
However, ice baths could cause hypothermia and be risky for people with heart disease.
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When And How Long You Must Sit In Ice Baths
- 1. Improves Sports Performance
- 2. Lessens Muscle Damage from Some Workouts
- 3. Reduces Swelling and Inflammation
- 4. Boosts Your Mood
- 5. Can Cause Hypothermia
- 6. Risky for People with Heart Diseases
- 7. Hinders Muscle Growth
- 8. Maybe A Placebo Effect
Britain Andy Murray takes a shower, eats, drinks, and has a massage after a tennis match.
He caps off this habit with an ice bath for about eight minutes by sitting in iced water with temperatures ranging from 8° - 10° Celsius. Similarly, heptathlete Jessica Ennis-Hill regularly stands in a bin of iced water.
Successful athletes adopt this system of ice bathing, and you probably wonder if it works.
The Idea Behind Ice Bathing
Strenuous activities cause microtrauma or tiny tears in your muscle. This damage is the objective of exercise because it triggers cell activity that repairs the muscles, leaving them stronger than before.
However, strenuous activity also has links with delayed onset soreness and pain, typically occurring between 24 and 72 hours after the workout.
Many people believe that an ice bath can help relieve soreness by:
· Compressing blood vessels and expelling waste products, such as lactic acid, from the affected tissues
· Lessen tissue breakdown and swelling
· Through rewarming the body part after the ice bath, increasing blood flow and hastening circulation.
· Overall, boosting the healing process.
There is no standard protocol on the ideal temperature and time for ice bath routines. However, many trainers and athletes suggest a water temperature between 12° - 15° Celsius from five to 20 minutes.
Research On Ice Bathing
Some limited research on ice bathing might not support it directly as a health benefit.
The Journal of Physiology released a study in 2017 that blasted the belief that ice bathing can soothe sore muscles. According to the study, a 10-minute low-intensity exercise on a stationary bike offers the same benefits for recovery as ice baths.
A study by The Centers for Advanced Orthopedics found that ice baths have some advantages. But did not prove 100% that they are beneficial. Instead, it found that ice baths do not necessarily reduce tissue and muscle damage or help quicker recovery and enhanced function.
However, plenty of indirect studies might suggest the benefits of ice baths are real, although there are some potential disadvantages and hazards. We cover these points in the rest of the article below.
How Ice Baths Work
Ice baths change the blood and fluid flow throughout your body. Blood vessels constrict if you sit in icy water, and they dilate when you get out.
The entire procedure flushes away any metabolic waste after your workout. Your lymph nodes do not possess a pump, and ice baths hasten the movement of stagnant fluids from them to the other parts of your body.
Increased blood flow can help your body recover because it floods your cells with oxygen and nutrient.
Moreover, ice baths are challenging and help you prepare for strenuous conditions. You become more resilient because they challenge your body by exposing it to several stimuli and stresses.
The entire process is a mental exercise too.
When And How Long You Must Sit In Ice Baths
There is limited research published on the amount of time you must take ice baths to be most effective. However, the sooner you partake after a strenuous game or workout, the better.
Ice baths between 10° - 15° Celsius for ten to 15 minutes offer the best results, according to a 2016 meta-analysis study.
You may ice part of your body only, like your arms or legs. However, if you prefer to flush out more metabolic wastes, it's better to submerge your entire body.
Advantages Of Ice Bathing
Look for these benefits when you undertake regular ice bathing.
1. Improves Sports Performance
After a game, athletes who dip into ice baths may gain reduced muscle soreness, allowing them to perform better sooner.
Ice baths can also help you feel and sleep better because they positively affect your central nervous system. As a result, you may experience improved reaction time in your future games.
If you plan to join a cross-country race in hot weather, you may prefer to take an ice bath before the event. It can lessen the effects of humidity and heat to boost your performance.
In addition, you can take a dip in an ice tub before your game or race for about 20 minutes to help lower your core body temperature by a few degrees.
2. Lessens Muscle Damage from Some Workouts
A 2016 Sports Medicine study discovered that ice baths are beneficial after some types of workouts.
For example, if you finished a high-intensity interval training (HIIT) or a total-body endurance workout, you could enjoy the benefits of ice bathing.
Ice baths reduce your high body temperature after strenuous activity.
3. Reduces Swelling and Inflammation
In a 2013 Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise study, ice bathing after an exercise can increase blood oxygen levels and reduce inflammation.
Ice baths flush lactic acid, a substance occurring during prolonged activity and exercise, resulting in an uncomfortable burning feeling in your muscles.
In addition, cold temperatures constrict your blood vessels and reduce swelling, inflammation and body aches.
4. Boosts Your Mood
A 2008 Medical Hypotheses article discovered that cold hydrotherapy increases beta-endorphin in the blood vessels to relieve your pain, reduce your anxiety, and boost your mood.
The researchers also recognize the release of noradrenaline in the brain, which helps people with depression.
Psychology Today also published an article in 2014, which explained the mood-boosting effects of cold hydrotherapy, which shocks the nervous system to release feel-good hormones.
Disadvantages Of Ice Baths
Be careful about these adverse effects of ice bathing.
5. Can Cause Hypothermia
Exposure to extreme cold is risky. According to a 2019 Scientific American article, if you submerge your body at 5° Celsius for more than 20 minutes can begin to lose strength and coordination, which are the first indications of hypothermia.
Therefore, to be on the safe side, you must limit exposure to ice baths for at most 15 minutes. Moreover, the temperature must be within 10° to 15° Celsius.
6. Risky for People with Heart Diseases
If you have a heart condition, you may reconsider taking ice baths because they shock your body and affect your blood flow.
Coldwater compresses your blood vessels and reduces blood flow to your legs and arms. As a result, your heart will find it harder to pump blood through these vessels, and your heart rate and blood pressure will increase.
If you had a heart attack or other cardiac conditions, you must cease taking ice baths.
7. Hinders Muscle Growth
If you are trying to get fitter or build muscle, post-workout ice baths may prevent muscle repair and growth.
In the Journal of Physiology 2019 study, the researchers found out that people who took ice baths after their workouts had higher muscle breakdown-related protein and reduced muscle growth-related protein.
8. Maybe A Placebo Effect
A Medicine and Science Sports and Exercise study noted that the ice bath benefits might be imaginary because its positive effects may be partially traceable to the placebo effect.
Jumping Into Ice Baths Safely
If you wish to submerge your body in Titanic-level temperatures, you should abide by these guidelines.
· Fill up your tub with a 1:3 water to ice ratio (one bucket of tap water and three buckets of ice)
· Gradually dip your lower body into the bath to adjust to the cold
· Start by soaking for 30 seconds until you acclimate to the procedure
· Do not stay in the water for more than 15 minutes
Also, we advise you to speak with your doctor or health professional before undertaking any ice bathing.
Alternatives To Ice Bathing
You may prefer these other options instead of ice bathing:
Soft tissue massage is an excellent alternative for bone-weary athletes and people with muscular dystrophy and arthritis.
Strenuous exercise can result in tiny tears in your muscles. And massage can lessen cytokine production that stimulates the mitochondria and inflames the muscles.
You may schedule regular massages for your muscles to better adapt to increased exercise.
Epsom Bath Salt
You can soak in Epsom salts to relax your mind and body. They have magnesium sulfate that promotes muscle relaxation.
Soaking your muscles in the solution can dilate your blood vessels and release some of your waste products.
Foam rolling increases the range of motion and elasticity of your muscles before your exercise.
In addition, it helps break up knots or scar tissue that causes chronic pains and aches.
The vibrating foam rollers penetrate deeper into your muscles, flush out waste products, and boosts blood circulation.
Should You Take Ice Baths?
Ice baths have some benefits. Some athletes and celebrities are into it because they feel relieved of their pains and aches. They also experience a boost in their moods so as not to feel stressed about life.
If you are up to the hassle of filling your tub with ice water and coaxing yourself to get in, you can do so.
There is conflicting evidence regarding ice bathing. So, if you prefer to do it, you must follow some precautions and guidelines in ice bathing and always consult with your doctor or health professional first.
Frequently Asked Questions
Here are the questions most frequently asked by our readers.
1. Can ice baths help reduce muscle soreness?
While some studies may not directly support the claim that ice baths can soothe sore muscles, plenty of indirect evidence suggests that the benefits of ice baths are real.
Ice baths can compress blood vessels, reduce tissue breakdown and swelling, and increase blood flow, which can help your body recover from strenuous activity.
2. How long should I sit in an ice bath?
While there is no standard protocol for the ideal temperature and time for ice bath routines, most trainers and athletes suggest a water temperature between 12° - 15° Celsius for five to 20 minutes. A 2016 meta-analysis study found that 10° - 15° Celsius ice baths for ten to 15 minutes offer the best results.
3. What are the advantages of ice bathing?
Ice bathing can improve sports performance, reduce muscle damage from some workouts, lessen swelling and inflammation, and boost your mood. Ice baths may also help you feel and sleep better because they positively affect your central nervous system, allowing you to react more quickly in future games.
4. Are there any risks associated with ice bathing?
Yes, there are some potential risks associated with ice bathing.
Exposure to extreme cold can be risky and may cause hypothermia, so limiting your exposure to ice baths to no more than 15 minutes and keeping the water temperature within 10° to 15° Celsius is essential.
Ice baths can also be risky for people with heart conditions or other health issues, so it's necessary to consult with your doctor before trying an ice bath.
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