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Are ice baths worth it?

Cold water immersion therapy has been becoming more popular in recent years, known as a recovery tactic usually done after a period of intense exercise. It’s where you dunk yourself in a tub of ice-cold water for between 10 and 15 minutes, and supposedly it comes with an impressive number of benefits. 

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But, as you can imagine, immersing yourself in ice water for fifteen minutes is certainly not the most fun task in the world. It’s quite a shock to the system, so is it worth it? Keep reading to find out. 

Potential benefits of ice baths

From world-class athletes to pop stars, many people are hopping on the ice bath trend. So there must be a reason why everyone seems so interested in the idea, right? Let’s take a look at some of the best benefits of ice baths now:

  1. Reduces inflammation and swelling

Ice is one of the best treatments for swelling and inflammation in the body because when the body is exposed to such low temperatures, the blood vessels constrict to improve swelling. This is particularly effective on post-workout swelling caused by muscle destruction during an intense workout. 

  1. Soothes painful muscles

Initial evidence has indicated that ice baths can be more effective than just regular rest at reducing delayed onset muscle soreness after exercise. Most athletes will know how inconvenient delayed muscle soreness can be, especially when you need to be in the gym multiple times a week. The idea that cold water immersion can reduce this is a great benefit to these athletes. 

  1. Has the potential to improve performance

There is mixed evidence on the topic of ice baths and performance, but most athletes who use cold water therapy have reported an improvement in their performance. This might be a placebo effect, though, as the majority of athletes who use cold water immersion do it with the hopes that it’ll improve their performance. There are other factors to consider when measuring performance, and more studies will be needed on the topic, but it often can’t hurt to try!

Potential drawbacks of ice baths

Everything has good merits and bad ones, so there are some potential drawbacks to ice baths as well. Let’s take a look at some of these now:

  1. Risk of frostbite and hypothermia

While it might sound extreme, it’s very possible that you could be exposing yourself to frostbite and hypothermia when staying in an ice bath for too long. To avoid this, make sure you listen to your body and never stay in the bath for longer than 15 minutes. Get out as soon as you notice any side effects such as skin changing colour or lethargy. 

  1. Pain

Dipping yourself into an ice bath isn’t a fun walk in the park. It sometimes comes with pain and discomfort, especially when you get in quickly or haven’t used one in a while. A degree of discomfort is common, but if the pain doesn’t subside after a few minutes, get out of the bath and warm up.

  1. It may be dangerous for compromised hearts

People who have cardiovascular disease need to contact their doctors before trying an ice bath, as the extreme temperature could cause an arrhythmia or heighten your symptoms. To make sure you’re keeping yourself safe, always talk to a healthcare professional beforehand. 

Safely taking ice baths at home

You don’t necessarily need a fancy ice bathtub to try cold water therapy – you can use your own bathtub! However, if you’re going to try to run your own ice bath at home, there are some safety precautions to make sure you’re doing it safely. 

Make sure you follow these guidelines before beginning your ice bath:

  • Limit your exposure to the ice water to 15 minutes only, making sure you set a timer or have someone near you to remind you when the time is up
  • Have someone supervise you the first few times you give yourself an ice bath, as they’ll be able to help you should anything go awry
  • Listen to your body and get out of the bath as soon as you feel something is wrong
  • Consult a doctor first if you have any pre-existing conditions such as heart disease or high blood pressure
  • Wear clothes, as this will help protect sensitive skin and body parts

Final thoughts

There are no clear answers on whether ice baths are worth it or not. While they have some studies to back them on muscle recovery and post-exercise soreness, there are also potential drawbacks that might make them less worth the effort. As long as your doctor says it’s safe for you to do so, the only way to work out if ice baths are worth it for you is to give it a try!

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