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Cold Water Therapy For Pain Management

pain management

Whether it is due to an injury or chronic ailment, constant pain management can leave you feeling exhausted and helpless.

If you are looking for alternative ways to heal that do not involve harsh medications or painful procedures, then you can consider cold water therapy. It is a scientifically backed approach to finding relief from chronic conditions, anxiety, and injury recovery. Read on to know how.

What Is Cold Water Therapy, or Cold Water Immersion (CWI)

While it may be trending now, cold water therapy or cold water immersion therapy (CWI) can be traced back to 3,500 B.C. The roots in ancient medicine shone through with Hippocrates and Galen from Greece and Rome understanding the health benefits long before rugged personal trainers, health gurus and Wim Hof did.

The way that cold water therapy works is by manipulating our body’s natural responses.

When you take the plunge into freezing waters, your body reacts by constricting blood vessels in the affected area—a process known as vasoconstriction. This reduces blood flow, which in turn decreases inflammation and swelling. Essentially, you are numbing the nerve endings which in turn decreases your body’s ability to send pain signals – temporarily.

It is important to mention that ice bath therapy isn’t solely about the shock to the body; it’s also about embracing temperature variations. Alternating between cold water immersion and warm water, or a sauna is known as contrast therapy, which can further enhance the benefits.

This method promotes circulation and flushing out metabolic waste products from tissues therefore speeding up recovery

Who Can Benefit from Cold Water Therapy?

In general, cold water therapy is beneficial to everyone. However, people dealing with chronic pain, injury management, or having a hard time with anxiety will gain the most out of the experience.

Chronic Pain

Where chronic pain is concerned, cold water therapy is often prescribed alongside physiotherapy.

If we take arthritis as an example – it is a common condition causing inflammation in the joints, leading to pain and stiffness. Immersing in cold water can numb the painful area, distract your mind, and help you better manage the condition.

Similarly, fibromyalgia—a condition characterized by widespread muscle pain and fatigue—can also benefit from cold water therapy. By exposing your body to icy waters for a set time, you can alleviate muscle soreness and reduce fatigue, giving you a much-needed break.

People who suffer from migraines have also found cold water therapy helpful. Plunging your hands or feet into ice-cold water can constrict blood vessels, potentially reducing the intensity and duration of a migraine attack.

Injury Pain Management

Since cold water lowers muscle tissues’ temperature and restricts blood vessels, it can lessen inflammation. After sustaining an injury, adopting a pain management program is crucial as inflammation often sets in, causing pain and swelling.

Using cold or (ice) therapy slows down the blood flow to the injured area and when you slow down the blood flow, it leads to less swelling and faster healing. This is exactly why cold muscle compression is prescribed after physical activity or muscle pain.

So, the next time you find yourself nursing a sports injury, consider taking a dip in an ice bath — it might just be the relief you’ve been searching for.

Additional Benefits of Cold Water Therapy

Now that we’ve covered the basics of pain management, let’s explore some of the lesser-known benefits of cold water therapy. From mood enhancement to improved circulation, there is a lot more than meets the eye.

Improved Circulation

Cold water therapy isn’t just about dunking in frigid water; it’s also about getting your blood pumping—in a good way! When you challenge your body with a cold, your circulatory system shifts into high gear. Blood vessels constrict, and then expand, enhancing blood flow and ensuring your tissues get a healthy dose of oxygen and nutrients.

Boosted Immune System

If you’re tired of constantly battling colds and infections, cold water therapy might be just what does the trick. “Regular exposure to cold water has been shown to stimulate the production of white blood cells, which play a crucial role in fighting off pathogens and keeping your immune system in top shape.” Nutritionist, Dale Folland says.

Faster Recovery

Athletes and fitness enthusiasts are no strangers to post-workout soreness. Before you resign yourself to hobbling around in agony and complaining about how sore you are, consider incorporating cold water therapy into your recovery routine. By reducing inflammation and muscle soreness, cold water immersion can help speed up the recovery process, allowing you to get back to doing what you love.

Skin Rejuvenation

It doesn’t all need to be around pain management. I bet you didn’t consider one of the better skin care routines can be dunking in some cold water.

Cold water immersion can tighten pores, reduce puffiness, and even improve the appearance of cellulite. It can also leave your skin feeling refreshed and rejuvenated, giving you that healthy glow we all crave.

What better approach than to double up the benefits of better skin, improved mood, and better sleep than plunging into cold water a few times per week!

Tips Before You Take the Plunge

Here are a few pointers to make sure you’re doing cold water therapy safely and enjoyably:

  • If you have never tried cold water therapy before, start slowly and for a shorter period. Slowly increase the time inside as your body adapts.
  • Cold water therapy is always a shock to the body so keep yourself hydrated before and throughout the process to ensure that you don’t put extra stress on your systems.
  • Consider investing in appropriate gear, such as insulated swimwear or neoprene gloves and socks, to minimize heat loss and maximize comfort during immersion.
  • It’s always better to start in a controlled environment with a supervisor. You can also find a buddy to help maintain accountability and observe in case anything goes wrong.
  • Keep close watch on how your body responds to the experience. If you have any discomfort or adverse reactions, exit the water immediately.
  • Always consult with your doctor before attempting cold water therapy, especially if you have any underlying health conditions or concerns.

Whether you’re tackling chronic pain or bouncing back from an injury and nothing is working, why not give cold therapy a whirl?

Remember, while cold water therapy can provide temporary relief from pain, it’s essential to incorporate other treatment modalities into your routine for long-term management. 


  • Dale Folland

    Dale is a seasoned Nutritionist with over two decades of experience in the health and wellness industry. His expertise has been sought after by elite groups such as NZ SAS Soldiers and NZ Fire Service, where he has contributed to optimising their performance and well-being. Dale is also a renowned speaker and educator and his work has been recognised in publications like the Daily Mail and various US media outlets.

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  • Neil Maidment D.O (Hons)

    Editor: Graduating from the prestigious European School of Osteopathy with a B.Sc (Hons) Degree and Diploma in Osteopathy in 2007. Neil has a passion for helping others improve their sporting performance, decrease their pain and recover faster. Neil practices Osteopathy out of Southern France, is an avid podcaster on Health and publicly speaks Internationally on health and wellness.

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