Immersion in cold water is definitely an activity that divides people – some love it, some hate it. But many now practice it weekly or even daily, believing it’s good for their mental and physical health.
Cold water therapy, as it is now called, can take the form of outdoor swims – in lakes, rivers or the ocean – cold showers or even ice baths. It was used for some time by sporty as a means of reduce muscle pain and speed up recovery time – people usually spend about ten minutes after exercise in cold water, i.e. about 10 to 15°C (50 to 59 °F).
Cold water has also been used to help treat symptoms of depression, painAnd migraine. Indeed, there are many testimonies on how cold water therapy changed lives, heal broken heartsand helped people hard times.
While many studies showed benefits related to ice baths and post-exercise recovery, research from 2014 found that there may be a placebo effect here.
Indeed, research into the potential benefits of cold water therapy or outdoor swimming is still in its early stages, but what is clear is that immersion in cold water may have adverse effects on the human body.
Cold Water Hazards
For any activity intended for a therapeutic effect, the minimum requirement is that it “do no harm”. But we cannot say the same for cold water – because it contains a lot of risks.
Currently, science for fully support cold water as therapy is not available and it is not yet known whether there is a certain time or temperature that works best. But what we do know is that less is definitely more when it comes to cold water immersion. In other words, going to colder water or staying there longer is not better for you. In fact, it can have the opposite effect.
In the UK, water temperatures in natural environments are approximately between 10 and 28°C in summer, falling to between 0 and 7°C in winter. And it is important to point out that the open water temperatures are lower than the air temperatures, so in April, when the air temperature can be warm, the sea temperature, even on the south coast, is likely to be below 10°C.
It may seem that when it comes to cold water therapy, showers and baths are a less dangerous option because you have better control in terms of temperature and exposure time compared to open water. But due to the colder temperatures that showers and ice baths can reach and the solitary nature of immersion, they still pose significant risks.
One of the little known problems associated with cold water immersion is what is called non-freezing cold injury. When we are exposed to cold, it is normal for our hands and feet to feel very cold or numb and may tingle or be sore on warming.
For most people, these symptoms are transient, with normal sensations returning within minutes. But for those with non-freezing cold injuries, these symptoms (pain, altered sensation and sensitivity to cold) may linger in the affected areas for many years due to nerve And blood vessel Shame.
It is caused by prolonged exposure to cold and damp, such as seen in trenches during wars, hence its nickname “trench foot”. It’s not just the military who are sensitive, cases have been recently reported among the homeless and those who undertake nautical sports.
Another issue is that it is unclear how cold is too cold with respect to cold water immersion and injuries from non-freezing cold. There are also many differences in how our individual bodies respond to cooling.
For example, those of African and Caribbean descent seem to be more susceptible to injury from non-freezing cold – the risks associated with exposure to cold therefore vary from one person to another.
Encouragingly however, a 2020 study with cold water swimmers indicates that although they may have cold sensitivity, this was not associated with damage to the skin. blood vessels in the skin.
Tips for cold water
So, if you’re interested in trying cold water therapy, here are some things to consider:
- Check with your GP first to make sure you can do this safely.
- Make sure you’re not alone and the water is safe – if you’re outdoors, consider tides, currents, waves, underwater obstacles, pollution and jellyfish.
- Plan how you will get in and out of the water safely (remember that your muscles won’t work as well when you’re cold and you may not be able to feel with your hands and feet).
- Know how you will warm up afterwards – make sure you have towels, dry clothes, windbreakers, a hot drink and somewhere to shelter. Do not drive or ride a bike until you are fully warmed up.
- Stay in cold water only for a short period of time, get out before you feel numbness, pain or chills.
Heather MassyLecturer, Faculty of Science and Health, School of Sport, Health and Exercise Science, University of Portsmouth; Claire EglinLecturer at the School of Sport, Health and Exercise Sciences, University of PortsmouthAnd Mike Tiptonprofessor of human and applied physiology, University of Portsmouth
This article is republished from The conversation under Creative Commons license. Read it original article.