Cold water therapy is commonly used by athletes after heavy training sessions to reduce inflammation and relieve muscle pain. However, you don't need to be an athlete to benefit from cold water immersion. Additional benefits include lower body fat, enhanced immune functioning, improved quality of sleep, improved adrenal function, and assistance in thyroid treatment.
Certain health conditions preclude some forms of cold therapy. You must consult your doctor before you start a cold water immersion program. It's important to know what you're getting into when you take the plunge.
The 4 Stages of Cold Therapy
There are four stages of cold therapy.
1) Coolness/cold: You feel the cold immediately, and instead of getting used to it, you enter the second stage.
2) Burning: The burning sensation is called paradoxical cold. It occurs when there is a sudden drop in skin temperature and body heat. The stage typically lasts two to four minutes.
3) Aching: This is a short stage that occurs when your whole body aches in cold temperatures.
4) Numbness: The burning and the aching give way to numbness. When you hit this stage, it's time to remove the cold, i.e., get out of the water.
Where Can I Get Cold Water Immersion Therapy?
Some gyms have cold therapy services, and you might even find a physiotherapist who has cold therapy facilities. However, it's easy to set up cold water treatment at home. All you really need is a kiddies' pool or bathtub.
If you're taking immersion therapy more seriously, you can buy a home cold plunge tank, which has all the fittings and features professionals use to maximize the benefits of immersion after exercise.
How Can I Get Cold Therapy Work At Home?
There are several ways in which you can start cold therapy at home. Aim to drop the water temperature from 50F - 60F (10C - 15.5C).
Cold showers are a great introduction to cold therapy, partly because you have control over the water temperature or cold exposure. You can start by lowering the temperature during your daily shower.
It's important to lower your core temperature slowly so you can properly acclimate to icy water and to prevent your body from going into shock. Start with one minute a day for a week. Progress to three minutes a day for a week. Then five minutes.
Adding the time for a cold water shower to the time of your regular shower isn't exactly water-wise, so you can work up to five minutes a day and then gradually increase your cold water exposure in an ice water tub.
As with cold showers, you need to gradually work your way into an ice bath with water up to your neck or shoulders. The idea is to start with a shallow kiddie pool. Fill it with cold tap water and then add ice to drop your body temperature if you wish.
From the kiddie pool, you can progress to the bathtub. Start with a shallow bath, just a bit deeper than the pool. You can add ice immediately and build up your tolerance from the get-go, or you can wait until you're at your maximum depth before dropping your core body temperature.
You must limit your time in the icy water; for example, start low-minute immersions with three to five minutes a day for a week and then increase your exposure to cold in the same vein as the shower therapy program.
There isn't technically a depth limit. If you've had a legs-only workout, then you can keep the water level just over your thighs. If you've had a whole-body workout, you can go up to your shoulders. You can even put your head underwater, although this isn't really recommended. If you are going to dunk your head, keep the immersion time very short.
There are many ways to use cold therapy that doesn't involve freezing water.
Ice packs are perfect for specific areas, such as your shoulder, knee, ankle, and neck. You don't even need to buy an ice pack. A packet of frozen peas or ice cubes wrapped in a towel do the trick.
In winter, you can strip down to shorts and a short-sleeve t-shirt and talk a walk outside. This works better in some states than others. Florida's winters, for instance, don't get cold enough. Maine, on the other hand, is a perfect cold environment.
Hypothermia is a real risk, so make sure you don't stay out for too long. This brings us back to the fourth stage of cold therapy.
What Happens During Stage 4 of Cold Water Immersion?
Stage four is numbness, and it marks the point at which you should cease the therapy session. You will be able to increase your time in the tub or tank as your body learns to tolerate freezing temperatures, but there is a definite cutoff point and that is 20 - 30 minutes. It doesn't matter how good you feel, if you stay in icy water for longer than that, you will likely go into mild hypothermia.
Hypothermia affects your body and mental functions and, if not treated immediately, could result in cardiac arrest. Essentially, your body uses its energy reserves and it's when the energy is gone, your brain and body start to shut down.
The symptoms of mild and moderate hypothermia vary from shivering and confusion to blue skin and slurred speech. When the degree of hypothermia is high, symptoms include fluid in the lungs and death.
Note, if you start shivering uncontrollably at any time during the stages, get out of the cold immediately. Recover from your decrease in body temperature with warm clothes and drinks.
Use Cold Water Therapy Safely With Ice Water Tanks And Features
Home cold water tanks come with safety features designed to prevent accidental hypothermia and improve the overall plunge experience. RENU Therapy tanks, for example, have temperature settings, so you are always in control.
Some home cold plunge tanks come with lights, so you can enjoy your bath in the dark of night. You can also get the benefits from cold temperatures when you're out camping and have your inflatable traveling bath with you.
Contact RENU Therapy to find out more about the benefits of cold water immersion and choose the tub that's best for you. Complete our onsite contact us form or call (714) 617-2007 now.0