How Ice Baths Promote Healing

Sabino Recovery is committed to always offering our residents the best options for recovery. Our treatment model is holistic and includes integrative therapies to supplement your recovery and assist your healing process. Addiction treatment is intense and mentally difficult so we offer multiple options to help you relax and safely take the time to process the difficult emotions that are brought up in therapy sessions.

One of these options is cold exposure therapy with an ice bath. Cold water immersion is commonly used by athletes to expedite muscle recovery and relieve soreness. Studies have shown that there are many benefits to cold stress therapies. Everyone can benefit from ice baths or even taking cold showers three times a week. Besides the physical benefits of muscle recovery, the mental benefits include relieving stress and anxiety, better sleep quality, and improving symptoms of depression.

The Benefits of Cold Exposure Therapy

Cold shocks our system into releasing norepinephrine, a neurotransmitter and hormone that affects our mood. Low levels of norepinephrine are associated with depression while high levels are associated with anxiety and PTSD. Norepinephrine is the neurotransmitter that’s released when our fight-or-flight response is activated. The goal of cold therapy is to regulate our levels of norepinephrine and train our brains to function even when our fight-or-flight response is activated.

There is also a biological process that is activated by norepinephrine. We know that norepinephrine regulates our mood, focus, and attention but it also regulates a process called mitochondrial biogenesis. This is the process by which our cells create more mitochondria, the powerhouses of the cell. Mitochondria create energy in our cells so the more we have, the more our cells can regenerate. This process is part of why ice baths are beneficial after a workout. Mitochondria are what allow us to use oxygen for energy. By stimulating norepinephrine and mitochondrial biogenesis, we can stimulate the production of mitochondria in our muscle tissue. More mitochondria in our muscle tissue improve our aerobic capacity.

Mitochondrial biogenesis also occurs in our adipose, or fat, tissue. Adipose that appears brown, as opposed to white, is packed with mitochondria. They take in nutrients and break them down into energy. Mitochondrial biogenesis in our adipose tissue is called the browning of fat. When we’re exposed to cold, our mitochondria use energy to try to warm us up which burns fat and increases our metabolism.

A Holistic Treatment Plan

Studies have shown the physical and mental health benefits of heat and cold therapy. Temperature is a powerful stimulus for our nervous systems. By leveraging both heat and cold, we have two more tools for addiction recovery. We understand now that by using cold therapy like ice baths to regulate norepinephrine, we can promote muscle healing, regulate mood and decrease symptoms of depression, improve sleep quality, decrease anxiety, and increase metabolism.