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What Are The Benefits Of Cold Water Therapy Or Cryotherapy?

Cold water therapy or cryotherapy includes cold-water immersion, ice massage, ice or cold gel pack application or any local application of cold for medicinal purposes. It is a type of treatment method used to speed recovery from certain conditions such as stressful exercises, muscle sprain, inflammation and pain, considering no standard guidelines have been established yet. [1]

The benefits of cold water therapy diminish with time, therefore, it is used as a direct treatment method in some cases such as swelling and pain while in others, it is used as post-operative management, especially in conditions related to orthopaedic procedures.

In this article, we will discuss some of the amazing health benefits of cold therapy or cryotherapy. Take a look.


1. Recovery from high-intensity exercise

High-intensity exercise can cause metabolic, mechanical or both types of stress on the body, leading to a decrease in performance of skeletal muscles, inflammation, heat generation and soreness. Cold-water therapy can help in speed-recovery from the condition by improving the blood flow, reducing swelling and normalising temperature and other endocrine changes.

2. Decreases oedema

A study has shown that in comparison to hot water therapy, cold water therapy is more effective in treating oedema related to episiotomy, a surgical tear or cut made in the vaginal area during childbirth. [2] Cryotherapy may also help reduce distress, itching sensation or pain in the area.

3. Improves heart conditions

According to a study, exposure to cold weather or cold water can reduce the risk of heart diseases such as coronary artery disease, heart failure and high blood pressure in healthy adults. The therapy may help improve coronary blood flow effectively when supported by regular exercise. [3]

4. Relieves pain

Cold water immersion can help relieve chest pain in people with heart diseases. For pain related to injuries or sprain, applying instant cold packs in the area can help relieve the pain by reducing the blood flow in the area. [4] On the other hand, cold therapy increases the production of beta-endorphin that diminish the perception of pf pain.


5. Reduces muscle spasm

A cold application can cause varieties of physiological reactions, including a reduction in muscle spasm. Ice massage or ice pack application reduces sensory conduction or motor nerve conduction and blocks the pain receptors, thus easing muscle spasms.

6. Reduces ankle sprain

The application of crushed ice or cold gels can help reduce acute musculoskeletal injury such as ankle sprain. A study has shown that when ice packs were applied directly on the injured ankle for 20-30 minutes at least once a day, can help reduce the sprain and assist in earlier cell repair. [5]

7. Improves asthma

Cold water immersion improves respiratory functions, especially in people with asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and improve their quality of life. The therapy helps improve metabolic rate, oxygen consumption and respiratory muscle functioning, thus improving the symptoms of asthma. Some studies say that swimming in winter can help relieve asthma pain in swimmers. [6]

8. Reduces weight

A study suggests that exposure to cold can help activate the brown adipose tissues which is the principal thermogenic organ to quickly increase heat production in the body. Activation of brown fat thus helps increase metabolic rate and thereafter, reduce body weight. Cold exposure can be done for 1-8 hours three times a week. [7]


9. Treats stress

Cryotherapy is known to enhance the psychological effects, and if combined with other complementary therapies such as relaxation, massage and aromatherapies can help increase the natural healthy ability of the body. Cold therapy helps provide mental relaxation, mental fatigue, anxiety, depression and improve the quality of life. [8]

10. Reduces inflammation

Cold therapy is said to have an anti-inflammatory influence during the recovery process. The therapy has the potential to reduce inflammation resulting from both metabolically and mechanically stressful conditions such as high-intensity exercises or inflammatory lung conditions.

11. Reduces fatigue

Cold therapy, as aforementioned, is known to increase the metabolic rate that may help in the recovery of muscle tissue from fatigue. Cryotherapy helps reduce fatigue by improving muscle recovery after a stressful event and reducing muscle pain.

12. Fast recovery from surgery

A study has shown that cold therapy such as the use of ice or cold pack can cause positive effects on wounds and damage to tissues and vessels and help in fast recovery from surgery. The cooling effect of methanol-containing bandage is mainly recommended by experts after surgery. [9]

Story first published: Saturday, March 20, 2021, 8:30 [IST]
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