Of late, several actors such as Kartik Aaryan, Rakul Preet Singh, Vidyut Jammwal, Samantha and sisters Neha and Aisha Sharma have shared glimpses of them trying cold water therapy experience at freezing temperatures, on their social media handles. A treatment that uses sub-zero temperatures, termed as Cryotherapy, is not a new trend, and has several benefits for one’s physical and mental health. In fact, it is also believed to be beneficial for one’s skin health.
Cryotherapy can be applied in different ways, such as, ice packs, coolant sprays, ice massage, and ice baths. Cold therapy or ice water dips are the acts of submerging your body in cold water at 15 degrees celsius or less. Some studies say that immersing yourself in icy water triggers the release of stress hormones – noradrenaline and cortisol, while other studies report increase in brain chemicals that regulate mood, such as dopamine and endorphin. We talk to doctors, orthopedics and celebrity fitness trainers to share their insights on the process and discuss the potential advantages and pitfalls of this wellness procedure, and what is the right way to do it.
Dr. Gurdeep Avinash Ratra, Consultant Orthopedics, Manipal Hospital, Gurugram, says, “Cryotherapy is not just limited to cold therapy but can also be used for treating certain bone tumors. It involves using extreme cold to destroy abnormal tissue with a specialised probe. It is a promising alternative to traditional surgery for eligible patients, but decisions should be made in consultation with a healthcare professional.”
Dr. Ashutosh Shukla, MD, FACP, Medical Advisor & Senior Director Internal Medicine, Max Hospital, Gurugram, shares, “Adapting to the shock of cold water helps build mental resilience and discipline. Consistent exposure to cold temperatures allows the mind to get comfortable in a state of discomfort, which might improve your ability to deal with other types of stress. Immersion in cold water helps reduce chronic inflammation which helps in reducing depression, boosting the immune system, and also feeling more awake and alive. However, more double blind controlled trials are needed to validate these benefits.”
Dr. Tushar Tayal, Lead Consultant, Department of Internal Medicine, CK Birla Hospital, Gurugram explains, “It activates the immune system by increasing antibodies and T cells, and may help weight loss by increasing the metabolism causing fat in the body to burn more calories to keep warm. Cold plunges may have a positive effect on stress management as well as cold temperature can stimulate vagus nerve which activates parasympathetic system Post exercise therapy reduces muscle soreness and seems to reduce body adipose tissue, as well as reduce insulin resistance and improve insulin sensitivity.”
Dr. Monica Bambroo, Head – Dermatology, Artemis Hospital, Gurgaon, tells us, “Cryotherapy is a fat freezing technique that makes your skin toned. It improves the blood flow in your skin and enhances the production of collagen, which helps in tightening of the skin. Always choose a good center, with people who are well experienced and have good results because if not done with precision, it may lead to an uneven skin and cold burns on the skin. Otherwise, this is completely safe and does not have any side effects.”
Celebrity fitness coach Shivohaam says, “Cryotherapy benefits people, who are building muscles and workout regularly in the gym. It helps create inflammation within the muscles, so that they can respond and grow. A cold water bath right after your exercise session would be mitigating the whole effect of working out, so it’s best to go for cold water therapy the next morning.”
1. While generally safe, there are potential risks like nerve damage or incomplete tumor destruction.
2. Extremely cold water can lead to a shock, which can cause fast heart rate, higher blood pressure and shortness of breath.
3. It could also lead to hypothermia, increasing the risk of abnormal heart rhythms (Arrhythmias) and possibly even cardiac arrest.
4. People with underlying heart conditions and elderly people are at a risk of losing consciousness and even drowning.
5. Prolonged immersion in temperature below 70 °F can lead to hypothermia where there is fall in body temperature below 95 °F and risk of death.
“It’s important to start with short periods of time for example a couple of minutes and gradually increase as your body adapts to the cold. Remember to listen to your body, there’s no need to push yourself too hard if you start to feel uncomfortable. If you start shivering, it’s a strong indication that you have reached your limit for that specific plunge. You could begin with three days per week for the first few weeks so you can take note of how your body feels as you introduce the new stimulus. A recent study shows that 11 minutes a week of being fully submerged is ideal,” suggests Dr. Shukla.