When are they beneficial or detrimental to health?
There are already several celebrities who have declared take ice baths, a practice that beyond its purely sensory effects is often presented as therapeutic and almost miraculous. On this list, for example, are personalities such as the British singer Harry Styles, Zac Efron, Lady Gaga or the Kardashian sisters. Many of them follow the ‘Wim Hof method’, named after a former Dutch athlete who was very responsible for popularizing this trend.
It is always convenient, however, to put all treatment under strict scrutiny, taking into account that it is our health that we are talking about. This is even more vital in the case of those ‘therapies’ that are not provided in a medicalized environment and have not undergone the strictest drug controls.
Positive effects: reduced evidence
The truth is that from the outset there are some reasons to consider that the ice bath practice can be beneficial to health.
Primarily, sudden exposure to intense cold causes vasoconstriction (contraction of the cecum of the blood vessels), which is logically followed by a return to normal when warming up again. This, in principle, should mean some relief from pain in case of injury, since the decrease in blood flow is associated with a reduction in sensory capacity (numbness) and because the variation in flow helps to eliminate accumulations. of lactic acid produced by intense exercise in the muscles.
In addition, providers and instructors in this technique (often called ‘cryotherapy’) claim that it has a number of other beneficial effects in areas such as function of the immune system. To date, there is no scientific evidence to support these claims.
Do you have risks?
Although indeed some studies have shown that ice baths can speed recovery in some cases of injurywhat is clear is that it is necessary to take a series of precautions to avoid suffering damage.
Because an excessive drop in body temperature (hypothermia) can cause a shock response (thermal shock) in the organism, the main parameters to monitor are the temperature of the water and the time it remains in it. Both variables are interdependent, so there are no universal answers. As a reference, it is considered that in principle a person should not spend more than 5/10 minutes in water at around 10º to minimize this risk.