Cold Water Therapy: Does It Work?

Spread the love

People are willing to try anything to improve their health and well-being. From fad diets to extreme fitness regimens, people are always looking for the next big thing to help them feel better and improve their overall health. This is why there are so many fitness and wellness trends at home for people to try. One of these is cold water therapy (cryotherapy or cold hydrotherapy).

Many believe that cold water therapy can help relieve any pains and aches and cure different ailments. But others remain skeptical of its healing properties. So, does cold water therapy actually work? 

What is Cold Water Therapy?

Cold water therapy uses freezing or near-freezing water to improve one’s health. It can be done using ice, gel packs, or cold baths. People usually immerse themselves in water for a short period, anywhere from 30 seconds to three minutes. Then, they will dry off and warm up. It is used in spas, wellness centers, and some physical therapy practices.

When was Cold Water Therapy Invented?

This treatment dates back hundreds of years. In the early 1800s, Vincenz Priessnitz, a poor farmer, is said to have started using cold water therapy to treat various ailments. From the cold therapy ideas of known physicians such as Galen and Hippocrates that cold water could help heal the body, Priessnitz developed his methods of using water to treat different conditions.

He opened a spa in Gräfenberg, Germany, where people would come to immerse themselves in an ice bath. This form of treatment gained popularity and was eventually used by the likes of Florence Nightingale. Today, cold water therapy is commonly used as a form of physical therapy and is even said to have benefits for mental health.

What is the Science Behind Cold Water Therapy?

The theory behind cold water therapy is that freezing temperatures can jumpstart the body’s natural healing powers to recover from various aches and illnesses. The body goes into survival mode when exposed to cold temperatures. This causes the blood vessels to constrict to preserve heat and warmth.

What are Its Benefits?

Further study is needed to confirm the efficacy of cold water therapy. However, some research has been conducted on its potential benefits due to its popularity, revealing a few potential advantages. Here are some of the purported health benefits of cold water therapy.

Can relieve muscle soreness

Delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) is a common problem for athletes and people who exercise regularly. Microscopic tears in the muscle tissue are the culprits behind this condition. These tears cause inflammation and pain. Cold water therapy is said to help soothe sore muscles by numbing the area and reducing inflammation. This is also why people apply an ice pack on a sprain – to reduce the swelling.

May improve circulation

One of the ways that cold water therapy is said to help improve circulation is by constricting blood vessels. This can help reduce inflammation and pain and even manage high blood pressure. The theory is that constricting the blood vessels will force the blood to move more quickly through the body. This increased circulation can help to speed up the healing process.

May prevent infections

Cold water therapy is also said to help boost the immune system by increasing the production of white blood cells. White blood cells are the body’s natural defense against infection. So, by increasing their production, cold water therapy is believed to help the body fight off infection more effectively.

May reduce inflammation

People also think the treatment can help to reduce inflammation. This is because cold temperatures will help reduce swelling and pain. It can also improve the range of motion in people with chronic inflammation, such as arthritis.

May improve your mood

Because a person’s mood can be affected by their sleep quality, cold water therapy may also help to improve mood. In one study, people who took a cold shower reported feeling more energetic and alert than those who did not. This boost in energy and mood could be due to the increased circulation that cold water therapy provides.

May ease symptoms of anxiety and depression

A small study published in the journal PLOS ONE found that cold water therapy can help to ease symptoms of anxiety and depression. The study looked at a group of people with diagnosed anxiety and depression. They were asked to immerse themselves in cold water for three minutes, twice a day. The study found that those who did this had significantly lower levels of anxiety and depression after four weeks compared to those who didn’t immerse themselves in cold water.

May help with weight loss

Although there is no direct evidence that cold water therapy can help with weight loss, some people believe it can. The theory is that the body has to work harder to maintain a normal body temperature when exposed to cold temperatures, and if the person wants to keep warm, they must move around a lot more. This increased effort is said to help burn calories and promote weight loss.

Is Putting Your Body in Cold Water Good For You?

cold water therapy
Is soaking in cold water actually healing? (Photo from Pixabay)

Cold water immersion is helpful but it can be risky, so it’s essential to talk to your doctor first before trying the therapy. These risks include the following:


This is when the body’s core temperature drops below 95 degrees Fahrenheit. It can occur when the body is exposed to cold temperatures or when exposed to cold water. Symptoms of hypothermia include shivering, confusion, and drowsiness. If not treated, it can lead to death.

Cold shock

This is a potentially life-threatening nervous system response to sudden cold exposure. It can cause an increase in heart rate and blood pressure and a decrease in blood flow to the extremities. This can lead to an increased risk of heart attack and stroke. Many of the symptoms of cold shock are similar to those of hypothermia, so it can be difficult to distinguish between them.


This cold body therapy can also lead to exhaustion, as the body expends a lot of energy trying to keep warm and produce heat. This can cause dizziness, confusion, and muscle weakness. If not treated, it can lead to hypothermia.


The body’s tissues, mainly around the fingers, toes, ears, and nose, can freeze when exposed to cold temperatures. This is known as frostbite. Symptoms of frostbite include numb,  pale, or waxy skin. If not treated, it can lead to permanent tissue damage. See a doctor if you think you have frostbite.

How Should I Start Cold Water Therapy Safely?

If you’re considering trying cold water therapy, speak to your doctor first. This is especially important if you have any health conditions that could worsen because of exposure to cold temperatures. Your doctor will advise you on whether it’s safe for you to try cold water therapy and, if so, how to do it safely. But in general, there are a few things you should keep in mind if you want to try cold water therapy:

Start slowly

Start slowly with cold water therapy and gradually increased the amount of time you spend in the cold water. This will help your body adjust to colder temperatures and reduce the risk of adverse effects. For starters, you could try taking cold showers for a few minutes. Then, gradually increase the time you spend in the shower or try taking a dip in a cold pool. Only then can you try ice baths that last for more extended periods.

Wear appropriate clothing

No matter how long you plan on spending in the cold water, it’s essential to wear appropriate clothing. This includes a wet or dry suit if you’re in the water for an extended period of time. It would be best if you had a towel to dry off with when you’re finished.

Monitor your body temperature

Monitor your body temperature when immersed in ice-cold water. It can help you avoid hypothermia and other adverse effects. Also, get out of the water if you start to feel cold or if your skin turns blue or pale.

Get out of the water if you feel unwell

If you feel dizzy, confused, or exhausted, get out of the water immediately. These are all signs that you’re not coping well with the cold and could be at risk of hypothermia or other adverse effects. Having someone with you who can help you out of the water if you start to feel unwell is a good idea.

Should You Try Cold Water Therapy?

Cold water therapy is an exciting way to potentially improve your health. It may help with conditions like arthritis, depression, and fatigue. However, it’s crucial to speak to your doctor and start slowly to reduce the risk of adverse effects. If you try cold water therapy, be careful and monitor your body temperature to avoid hypothermia and other health complications.

Cold water therapy may not be for everyone, but it could be worth a try if you’re interested in exploring alternative treatments.

Scroll to Top