Ice Bath Therapy: Health Benefits and Best Practices

Adam Hood Adam Hood
Ice Bath Therapy: Health Benefits and Best Practices

You may have witnessed professional athletes soaking themselves in an ice bath following a game. You may be familiar with a fitness enthusiast who strongly believes in the benefits of ice baths for recovering after a workout. Cold-water plunges are a type of cryotherapy that uses cold temperatures to address a range of health issues.

They are highly popular among celebrities, with people from various fields, such as football players and singers, enjoying a swim. While this practice has recently gained popularity, it has yet to be a novel concept.

Throughout history, individuals have relied on the practice of cold-water immersion to enhance their overall well-being and promote good health.

Those who love this method argue that it has the ability to decrease muscle soreness, decrease inflammation, and enhance sleep quality. However, the research on the benefits of ice baths is quite varied.

Types of Ice Bath Therapy

Ice Bath Therapy

You have a few options for cold water therapy.

Cold Water Immersion

Immersing yourself in cold water, whether up to your neck or targeting a specific joint or area of the body, is what ice therapy is all about. Ice baths are a commonly chosen method for cold water immersion due to their ability to easily regulate the temperature.

They can be done at home, in a physical therapy clinic, or in a specialty recovery studio. If you reside in a colder region, you have the option to step into a frigid body of water, like a lake. The duration of time spent in cold water can vary based on factors such as temperature and individual tolerance.

Contrast Water Therapy

This technique is comparable to cold water immersion but involves alternating between exposure to cold water and hot water. Studies generally follow a specific protocol, although the approach can differ. Start by placing the affected limb in warm water (100.4 to 104 degrees F) for 10 minutes.

Then, switch between immersing it in cold water (46.4 to 50 degrees F) for one minute and warm water for four minutes until you reach a total of 30 minutes. Water therapy is commonly utilized in sports and physical therapy environments to facilitate recovery and minimize muscle damage.

Cold Showers

Showering with cold water can be a gentle introduction to cold water therapy, although the advantages may differ from those experienced with full immersion in cold water. While cold showers may provide a temporary boost in alertness, there is no scientific evidence to support their effectiveness in alleviating exercise-induced stress on the body.

Wim Hof Method

The Wim Hof Method, as described on its website, includes cold water therapy, breath work, and commitment practices to help people reconnect with themselves and their surroundings.

According to the website, there are several potential benefits, such as increased energy, decreased stress, reduced inflammation, improved sleep, and faster recovery. Nevertheless, most of the research backing the Wim Hof Method mainly consists of case studies focused on Hof himself.

A more thorough study that follows the progress of a randomly selected group of individuals who follow the Wim Hof Method, individuals who engage in general meditation and breathing exercises, and individuals who do not practice any of these methods would provide stronger evidence for these claims.

How Do Ice Baths Work?

When you submerge yourself in an ice bath, the chilly water causes a decrease in your body and skin temperature. When the temperature drops, your body responds by constricting your skin's blood vessels and redirecting blood to your core in an effort to keep warm.

After emerging from an ice bath, your blood vessels undergo vasodilation and deliver oxygen- and nutrient-rich blood to your muscles and other tissues. This process can potentially alleviate inflammation, which is often responsible for pain and muscle soreness. An example of this is the discomfort experienced after exercising, known as delayed-onset muscle soreness (DOMS).

When you submerge yourself in water, it exerts a force on your body known as hydrostatic pressure. Hydrostatic pressure facilitates the movement of blood flow towards vital organs such as the heart, brain, and lungs. This process makes sure that these major organs receive an ample supply of oxygen and nutrients.

Benefits of Taking Ice Baths

Ice Bath Therapy

To keep things simple, here we have listed five ice bath benefits below, followed by a little more information on each of the ice bath benefits;

  • Placebo Effect
  • Analgesia
  • Vasoconstriction
  • Reduce Inflammation
  • Transfer Of Temperature 

Placebo Effect

As already discussed, the advantages of ice baths may not solely stem from physiological effects but rather from the way they are perceived. Ice baths can be quite challenging, both physically and mentally.

As time goes on, this mental battle becomes less intense, making you less sensitive to the painful sensation of cold. Many individuals frequently describe a sense of vitality and alertness following ice baths. That is something that might help decrease how we perceive DOMS and RPE.


This results in significant physiological benefits that help reduce pain. This chilly feeling has the power to rouse our thermal nerve cells. However, it may also have an impact on nerve conduction speeds and excitability.

Our thermal nerve cells can be affected, leading to a decrease in communication with the sympathetic nervous system. As a result, the sensation of pain may be reduced.


Vasoconstriction occurs when the blood vessels narrow, reducing their diameter. In ice baths, this happens because the skin and blood vessels sense the cold temperature.

The body naturally restricts blood flow in order to maintain its core temperature. This decreases blood flow to the muscles, where potential muscle damage and inflammatory responses may have occurred.

Reduced Inflammation

There is a possibility that a decrease in blood flow could reduce swelling and the ability of white blood cells to reach injured muscles, which will, as a result, lead to a reduction in inflammation.

Transfer of Temperature 

The fact that the body is immersed and in direct touch with a cold liquid, which covers the body is one of the advantages of utilizing ice baths or plunge pools as opposed to alternative methods such as cryotherapy or a cold shower.

When a liquid comes into close touch with the skin and has the ability to influence the temperature of the skin, there is a greater likelihood that the blood vessels will react more favorably to the liquid.

Side Effects and Risks of Ice Baths 

There are certain risks associated with immersing your body in an ice bath. The way your body responds to an ice bath is influenced by various factors, such as your overall health, the duration of your immersion, and the temperature of the water.

Here are some possible side effects of taking an ice bath:

  • Cold panniculitis (cold-induced rash): If the skin's fatty tissue layer is injured by extreme cold, it can cause the development of an itchy and painful skin rash. Cold panniculitis may present as scaly patches, hard bumps, or deep lumps.
  • Cold shock response: When you are suddenly submerged in water that's below 60 degrees, it can have a jarring effect on your body. This can cause symptoms such as a rapid increase in breathing, heart rate, and blood pressure. Being in deep water can pose a higher risk of drowning. This can also put a strain on the heart.
  • Low body temperature (hypothermia): Ice baths can lead to excessive cooling and potentially lower your body temperature to unsafe levels. This could potentially result in organ failure.
  • Ice burn: Ice can cause severe burns to your skin, resulting in painful blisters and discoloration of the affected area. Additionally, frostbite can occur, which is characterized by skin damage and tissue death resulting from freezing skin and underlying tissues.
  • Nerve damage: Extended exposure to cold temperatures can lead to a decrease in blood flow, which can result in tissue death and long-lasting nerve damage. Damage to the nerves can result in symptoms such as pain, numbness, and a decrease in muscle strength.


In this article we have discussed why ice bath therapy is useful, what are its types and what are some potential risks you should know of before you go into this. Cold Plunges by Sun Home Saunas are one of the best cold therapies you can enjoy.

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