Cold water for Pain relief

Sep 11 / Susanna Søberg
Pain is a common experience for many people, and it can be caused by a variety of factors, including injury, inflammation, and chronic conditions - or even pain and soreness post-workout.
Cold therapy is a common treatment for pain. I want to teach you how cold therapy can be an effective way to manage discomfort and get more resilient towards pain. Opening that window for a short-term pain will make you more resilient to stress, depression, and anxiety. This is because you move your pain-perception in the brain to a higher baseline. Moving the threshold for pain perception is not only increasing your mental resilience towards pain, but also your physical tolerance toward pain. Cold exposure is a great tool and mediator to work on that pain-threshold.
Remember that pain-perception is influenced by so many factors - even temperature and your breathing pattern influence this.

Cold Exposure for Acute Pain and Recovery

Let’s begin with a couple fun facts
Did you know that the Egyptians are the first known to use cold therapy to treat inflammation? And did you also know that Hippocrates is considered the father of cryotherapy? In his writing he referenced the use of snow and ice to stop swelling.
Given this information, cold therapy has been around for a long time and been a valuable tool in treating pain and inflammation. But still today we’re looking for answers on the biological mechanisms of why cold exposure lowers pain and swelling. Today I’ll give some of the answers.
First let me just break down some terms, which you might have heard. They often course a bit of confusion.

What is cold water therapy?
Some people use the word “Cryotherapy” for all kinds of cold exposure. Cryotherapy is a broad term that includes different cold approaches like such as cold-water immersion, cold air exposure as in cryochambers or the use of ice packs to alleviate the symptoms by removing heat, reducing core body temperature, and altering blood flow to the injured area.
This in turn, provides benefits of reduced perception of pain, and improved feelings of wellbeing in general, but also specifically during post-exercise recovery and/or after injury.
Whole-body cryotherapy is an extreme cold therapy developed in Japan in the 1970s to treat pain and inflammation in different rheumatic diseases. The therapy, which lasts 1–3 min, is given in a cold room in which the air temperature is -110˚C. It’s used in several European countries and mostly for medical reasons.
Winter swimming is also a form of whole-body cryotherapy. It has also been used as a treatment method in rheumatic diseases or as a recreational pastime in healthy subjects in countries where waters freeze during winter. In Denmark we have used it for hundreds of years.

What is possibly some of the biological explanations for pain-relief with cold exposure?
Cold therapy is used and anecdotally known for many years to relieve pain and inflammatory symptoms.
The hormones most frequently studied and described in relation to whole-body-cold exposure are the catecholamines:
Adrenaline, noradrenaline, the endogenous opioids β-endorphins, and the steroid hormone cortisol.
Dopamine too has huge role in pain relief.
We also call β-endorphins our “natural painkiller”. Increasing β-endorphins naturally is probably one of the most efficient ways to decrease pain and increase quality of life. But other hormones and neurotransmitters are involved?

Here are some facts to sum up about hormones:
The hormones most frequently studied and described in relation to cold exposure are the catecholamines:
Adrenaline and noradrenaline, the endogenous opioids β-endorphins, and the steroid hormone cortisol. But β-endorphins might not be the pathway for pain-relief. Noradrenaline seems to be part of the explanation.

Post workout recovery

Unlock the Power: Noradrenaline and Cold Water Immersion Discover the Secret: Easing Joint and Muscle Pain Interested in maximizing your workout recovery? Look no further than cold water immersion! Research shows that noradrenaline levels surge during this invigorating plunge, providing a natural remedy for discomfort. By stimulating both noradrenaline and dopamine, cold water can help alleviate joint and muscle pain, giving you much-needed relief. Bid farewell to post-workout inflammation and welcome accelerated muscle repair. To reap all the incredible benefits, consider scheduling your cold plunges on separate days from your workouts. Don't miss out on this opportunity to unlock the potential of cold water and take your recovery to new heights!

Cold water for chronic pain management

Both whole-body cryotherapy and cold-water immersion, can be used to manage a variety of types of pain including acute injuries, such as sprains, strains, and bruises, chronic pain conditions, such as arthritis and fibromyalgia, post-surgical pain, headaches, and migraines.

Learn more about the method on how to use cold and heat exposure, start with The 3 Weeks Thermalist Course. It's an online course teaching you in layman language what you need to know to get started with your health journey. If you're ready to take your knowledge to the next level, sign up for The Thermalist Education for Instructors right here. You will not only be able to teach the practice, but also fully undertand the benefits and safety necessary for your clients. The future of temperature as fitness is learning how to "Stress up to stress down".