Chill Pills: Thawing The Mysteries Of Cold Therapy

Cold Therapy

There are many types of cold therapies, ranging from cold water immersion or cold plunge to cryotherapy to more targeted therapy with ice massage and coolant sprays. Cold therapy has been gaining traction as a versatile and effective means to enhance health and recovery. This article explores the benefits of cold therapies and how you can consider incorporating cold therapy into your day-to-day routine. 

Health Benefits of Cryotherapy and Cold Water Immersion

MUSCLE RECOVERY Cold water immersion has several benefits, the most prominent of which is managing muscle soreness and speeding up recovery post-exercise. By reducing the temperature of deep tissues and mitigating inflammatory responses, cold immersion aids in recovering faster after intense physical activities (Banfi et al., 2010). In addition, athletes employ whole-body cryotherapy to rapidly reduce pain and inflammation post-injury, which helps in accelerating the healing process and allows for quicker return to training (Nadler et al., 2004). The process of rewarming also stimulates blood flow, promoting a natural form of detoxification, which is beneficial for overall health (Holmes & Willoughby, 2016).

METABOLISM BOOST Intermittent cold exposure is effective in modest activation of brown fat, which plays a significant role in energy expenditure and metabolic rate. This type of exposure leads to slight increases in metabolic rate and can have transient benefits on glucose homeostasis without significant weight loss (Ravussin et al., 2014).

Regular cold exposure in humans can recruit brown fat and potentially reduce body fat mass, supporting its role in energy metabolism and body weight regulation (Yoneshiro et al., 2013).

IMMUNE-BOOST Repeated cold stress may enhance anti-tumor immunity by increasing the number and activity of peripheral cytotoxic T lymphocytes and natural killer cells. This response is thought to be mediated by the transient activation of the sympathetic nervous system and various hormonal pathways (Shevchuk & Radoja, 2007).

Choosing Between Cold Therapy Options

COLD PLUNGE There are local spas including Immersion Spa in Palo Alto, Watercourse Way (in some rooms, not all), and more. Regarding home cold plunge options, one effective approach is to set up a cold plunge tub at home. You can purchase portable cold plunge tubs online from various health and wellness equipment suppliers. These tubs vary in price and features, such as size, temperature control, and maintenance systems. A basic tub can start at around $500, with more advanced models, including those with temperature control and filtration systems, costing several thousand dollars. The choice should be based on your available space, budget, and how frequently you plan to use it.

CRYOTHERAPY Cryotherapy tends to be more expensive due to the technology required for cooling, often making it less accessible than cold water immersion. One local option for Cryotherapy is you can visit No Limits Cryo in Menlo Park. They offer various services including whole-body cryotherapy, facial cryotherapy, spot cryotherapy, and also have infrared sauna sessions. They accept various forms of payment, including HSA and FSA health plans, making it accessible and potentially more affordable for clients. The center operates most days of the week with varying hours​.

Localized Therapies

  1. Ice Packs or Gel Packs: Often used for targeted pain relief and to reduce swelling in specific areas. They are convenient for home use and can be applied directly to injuries or sore spots.
  2. Ice Massage: This involves freezing water in a cup and then rubbing the ice directly on the affected area. It’s particularly effective for muscle strains or sprains, providing both the benefits of ice and massage by reducing inflammation and promoting circulation.
  3. Cold Compression Therapy: Combines cold therapy with compression to further reduce pain and swelling. This therapy is frequently used in sports medicine to treat athletes’ injuries immediately after occurrence.
  4. Coolant Sprays: These are used especially in sports settings to rapidly cool down specific areas of the body. The spray causes rapid evaporation, which decreases the skin temperature quickly and can provide immediate temporary relief for minor sports injuries.


This article dives into the diverse and potent benefits of cold therapy—from the soothing plunge of cold water immersion to the cutting-edge technology of cryotherapy. As we have explored, these therapies are not just about managing pain or speeding recovery; they also can involve significant boosts to metabolism, immune function, and overall well-being. For those considering integrating these therapies into their health regimen, understanding the various options available, from the high-tech solutions at specialized centers to practical at-home treatments, ensures that you can make informed decisions that align with your health goals, budget, and lifestyle.

Whether you’re an athlete seeking faster recovery or simply looking to enhance your body’s natural functions, cold therapy offers a refreshing path to physical rejuvenation.

If you have feedback on this article or on future topics you’d like to see Dr. Maia Mossé write about, or are interested in working with Dr. Mossé, feel free to message the team at [email protected] or via Instagram at @villagedoctor. 

Read Also: How Cooling Therapies Can Prevent Several Side Effects From Chemotherapy

Maia Mossé, MD, May, 2024

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