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Cryotherapy vs Ice Bath

Many professional or amateur athletes and fitness enthusiasts are fully aware of the benefits associated with cold therapy after a strenuous work-out.

But the big question remains unanswered!

Between Cryotherapy vs ice bath, which is the most effective approach in promoting performance by speeding up recovery process through muscle repair? Or reduces soreness, muscle pain or inflammation?

Well, I might have an answer for you, but let’s keenly analyze the two methods together and be in a better position to make a sound decision on which one to settle for.

Cryotherapy and ice bath are both forms of cold therapy where extremely cold temperatures are used. These two techniques may appear similar, though in real sense they are actually very different.

Cryotherapy entails use of extremely cold temperatures on part or the whole body in various ways from use of cold chambers to ice bath or ice pack application.

On the other hand, ice bath also referred to as cold water immersions involves immersion of the whole body or some part in a bathtub containing icy water.

WHOLE BODY CRYOTHERAPY VS ICE BATH

Whole body cryotherapy as the name suggests is designed to benefit the whole body. Your body is placed in controlled whole body cryotherapy chambers with extremely cooled dry air ranging from -200 to -240 degrees Fahrenheit for about 2-3 minutes.

One is required to be in a pair of socks, gloves, underwear, head-band to cover the face and the ears and a surgical mask to prevent direct inhalation of humid air. Whole body cryotherapy for athletes specifically, has been termed as the best form of cold therapy for muscle recovery, reduction of soreness and muscle pain by increasing the rate at which the muscle are repaired thus promoting naturally healing body mechanisms.

In ice bath, icy water is used with temperatures ranging from 50 to 60 degrees Fahrenheit for about 15-20 minutes. Ice bath are cheap and readily available as the only requirement needed is a bathtub and some bags of ice. Ice bath has been known to reduce soreness and inflammation but not enhancing body’s natural healing mechanisms.

Whole body cryotherapy vs ice bath: which one portrays more benefits than the other?

Well, let’s find out

  • Time taken in each approach

In whole body cryotherapy one is required to take 2-3 minutes in the cold chambers, it thus saves time. In ice bath though, the time taken in the icy water ranges between 15-20 minutes, this approach is time consuming.

  • Treatment temperatures applied

In whole body cryotherapy the chambers are filled with dry mist of air obtained from liquid nitrogen with the temperatures ranging from -200 to -240 degrees. The dry cold air does not affect the body muscles since the cold only penetrates ½ mm into the skin.

In ice bath icy water used is cold wet, this normally results in muscle congealment. The muscles then lose elasticity becoming immobile. The wetness from the icy water waterlogs the skin leading to skin irritation, redness and damage of the skin sensory structures.

  • Resumption of work-out activities

In whole body cryotherapy work-out activities can be resumed immediately after exiting the cryotherapy chambers as the body usually detects a back to normal temperatures and blood is circulated back to the peripheral muscles and organs.

In ice bath resuming work-out activities immediately is very impossible due to congealment of the muscles. One is therefore required to rest for a period of 24 hours to allow the muscles to regain back their normal functionality.

  • Pre or post- workout exercise?

Whole body cryotherapy is used for both pre and post work-out activities. Prior, the amount of energy needed for the activities increases rapidly while after cryotherapy hastens the recovery or reduces muscle pain and soreness.

Ice bath is only recommended as an after work-out strategy to reduce soreness, inflammation and muscle pain.

  • Safety involved

Whole body cryotherapy has been designed putting into considerations safety measures of the end-user. Before permission is granted into the cryotherapy chambers one must put on a pair of socks, gloves, underwear, headband and surgical mask. For the newbies, presence of skilled personnel is highly recommended to control all the procedures of the chambers.

There is no much emphasis of safety in ice bath.

  • Risks involved

Whole body cryotherapy does not pose any risks associated with hypothermia as the body’s temperatures remain warm despite extremely cold temperatures in the chambers. An illusion is created where the body believes hypothermia is inevitable resulting to vaso-constriction which is a drastic survival mechanism. The blood is therefore directed to the core a move to ensure the organs remain functional. In addition, the blood flow to the targeted areas is reduced this ensures metabolic processes are halted  reducing soreness and inflammation.

In ice bath, the wet cold penetrates deep into the skin causing the body tissues to freeze while the muscles congeal which can easily result to death. Once immersed into the icy waters the body detects the risk of hypothermia causing vaso-constriction body’s mechanism to pump warm blood to the peripheral tissues and muscles to prevent it from freezing.

Benefits associated with each approach: Cryotherapy and Ice Bath

Let’s talk about the benefits associated with whole body cryotherapy first,

In whole body cryotherapy other benefits are incurred in the process which is an added advantage. During the exercise the brain triggers various organ’s regulatory function resulting in rejuvenation of cells, boost of body’s immunity system, increased amount of energy, adrenaline and endorphins that in turn improves self-healing mechanisms  of the whole system.

Skin, nails and hair’s health is improved due to increased amount of collagen production.

Ice bath has only been found to reduce soreness, muscle pain and inflammation.

There you have it, all the facts you need to know about whole body cryotherapy vs ice bath.

 

References:

Broatch JR, Petersen A, Bishop DJ. Postexercise cold water immersion benefits are not greater than the placebo effect. Medicine and science in sports and exercise. 2014;46(11):2139–47. doi: 10.1249/MSS.0000000000000348 pmid:24674975.

 

Hohenauer, E., Taeymans, J., Baeyens, J., Clarys, P., & Clijsen, R. (2015). The Effect of Post-Exercise Cryotherapy on Recovery Characteristics: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. PLOS ONE PLoS ONE, 10(9). doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0139028