Whenever there is a new, trendy, health fad I tend to be skeptical. Not only do these fads tend to come and go so quickly that you forget about them before you get the chance to try them out for yourself, but they are often unattainable to the average person.
A couple years ago the fad was cryotherapy, another form of cold exposure. But what made this fad almost elitist was that it required a special cryotherapy chamber which you could only find in dedicated facilities. The price per treatment was high and often required a membership. The benefits were there, but trying this therapy was not possible for the average person, so they were never able to give it a try.
Enter the cold plunge.
While cold exposure itself is not a fad, the ways in which we obtain it are. Luckily, cold plunges are much more accessible to the average person which means this fad may be here to stay.
The principle is simple: submerge as much of your body (up to your head) in as cold of water as you can tolerate for 1-5 minutes. The temperature will vary for each person but should follow the guideline of "this is really cold, I want to get out, but I can stay in safely." You can do this in a bathtub with some added ice, or you can buy a cold plunge tank, or you can get creative and make your own. That't what I love about this therapy is that you can do it very low budget, at home, and every day because it takes no time at all!
Why you should consider cold plunges for your chronic pain
The research on cold exposure is extensive but is sure to grow as this trend continues to grow. When it comes to chronic pain, here are the reasons why you should be giving cold plunges a try.
Cold plunges increase nitric oxide levels
Nitric oxide is a molecule that dilates your arteries and increases the amount of blood flow and oxygen to your tissues. This is a great practice for chronic pain sufferers considering all chronic pain conditions exhibit oxygen deprivation to the painful tissues! Increase oxygen saturation and decrease your pain! (PMID: 34356664)
Cold water plunges act as an antioxidant to heal tissues and prevent further damage
Damaged tissues that are contributing to your chronic pain are most susceptible to oxidative damage. Oxidative damage is what antioxidants fight. Antioxidants do a lot of wonderful things in your body like help heal damaged tissues, decrease inflammation, and boost your immune system. All things chronic pain sufferers need! (PMID: 27750503)
Cold Water plunges reduce acute and chronic inflammation
Chronic inflammation is present in every chronic pain sufferer. Unfortunately, there are no pharmacological interventions for chronic inflammation. Luckily, there are a lot of non-pharmacological interventions for chronic pain that can be done from home, like cold plunges. Regular cold plunges help reduce inflammatory markers like IL-6 and inhibit chronic inflammatory pathways like NF-kB. (PMID: 28759646, 31362785)
Cold water plunges increase white blood cells and lymphatic drainage
White blood cells and your lymphatic system help remove inflammation from your tissues which is vitally important for chronic pain sufferers! Not to mention cold plunges just boost your overall immune system!
Cold water plunges can increase your dopamine by 250%
Dopamine is one of your feel good and reward neurotransmitters which can be depleted in chronic pain sufferers. Low dopamine can cause and be caused by stress, anxiety, and depression around chronic pain. The best part is that through this method, dopamine remains stable throughout the day instead of crashing which is common with drugs and other methods. (PMID: 10751106)
If submerging yourself in cold water is not possible or fathomable there is another way. The shower! The results are a little blunted compared to a full submersion but the benefits are still strong! Just take as cold of a shower for as long as possible. To help yourself get used to the cold and set yourself up for success, start with a normal shower and end with a cold rinse. Each time increase the length and decrease the temperature of the cold rinse. After a while you’ll be taking purely cold showers which you will also be able to continually lower the temperature of!
Cold plunges are certainly off putting and uncomfortable at first, but the great thing about them is that just doing them at all is enough to reap the benefits! If you can only stay in for a couple of seconds the first time, no problem! As you perform them regularly (which is key) you will begin to not only tolerate them, but you will start to look forward to them. They are so beneficial for your physical, biochemical, and mental/emotions bodies! Something all chronic pain sufferers should try!