Ice bathing, a practice that has gained popularity in wellness and fitness circles, is often promoted for its potential health benefits. However, it may not be as safe as you think.
In some cases, shocking the body with cold water can trigger potentially serious cardiovascular issues. It’s vital you understand the potential risks involved before trying out this popular practice.
Here, we’ll explore what cold therapy is, the dangers it may present, and when it should be avoided.
What is cold therapy?
Cold therapy, also known as cryotherapy, exposes the body to extremely cold temperatures for therapeutic purposes. This can range from localised applications, like ice packs on injuries, to whole-body exposures, such as ice baths or cryotherapy chambers.
The practice is based on the premise that cold temperatures can reduce inflammation, ease pain, and enhance recovery after physical exertion. Athletes often use ice baths to soothe muscle soreness by reducing inflammation to accelerate recovery after intense training sessions.
However, sudden cold water immersion should be carefully considered as the cold shock response can be incredibly dangerous, and could lead to serious health problems. Furthermore, although there is research suggesting there may be some health benefits from voluntary exposure to cold water, a lot more research is needed in this area.
Understanding the dangers of ice bathing
While ice bathing can offer benefits for some, it’s crucial to understand its potential risks too, especially those relating to cardiovascular health.
Immersing the body in extremely cold water causes an immediate cardiovascular response. The heart rate decreases, while blood pressure increases due to the constriction of peripheral blood vessels. This vascular constriction can be strenuous on the heart, particularly in those with pre-existing heart conditions.
The shock of cold water can also trigger an acute stress response, releasing adrenaline and potentially leading to arrhythmias (irregular heartbeats). For those with underlying cardiovascular issues, this sudden stress on the heart and circulatory system can pose significant risks.
It’s essential to weigh these risks against the potential benefits, and to consult with your doctor before starting any form of cold therapy.
Who should avoid ice bathing?
Those who suffer with heart disease, high blood pressure, or a history of a stroke are at increased risk when exposed to extreme cold. The sudden changes in blood pressure and heart rate can worsen these conditions, leading to potentially serious complications. If you have respiratory issues, such as asthma, you may also find your symptoms worsen with cold exposure.
Pregnant women should also avoid ice bathing, as the extreme temperatures can have unpredictable effects on both the mother and the developing foetus. Finally, those with Raynaud’s disease or other circulatory disorders should steer clear of ice baths, as the reduced blood flow can worsen their symptoms.
If you are thinking of giving ice bathing a go, then it’s a good idea to get assessed by a cardiology expert first. They can assess your cardiovascular health and help you determine whether it is safe for you to undergo cold therapy.
Schedule an appointment with Dr Konrad Grosser today to undergo a cardiovascular check-up.