4 Benefits of Cold Therapy for Martial Arts

Martial arts are often physically demanding activities that can be hard on your body, especially if you practice the more physically intense discipline. Fortunately, there are several ways to speed up the recovery process, and cold therapy is near the top of the list. So what are some of the benefits of cold therapy for martial arts?  

Some of the benefits of cold therapy for martial arts include: 

  • Pain relief
  • Injury recovery and reduced inflammation
  • Decreased stress and soreness 
  • Improved performance 

This article will tell you everything you need to know about cold therapy, from what it entails to when to use it, its costs, and its various benefits.

What Is Cold Therapy?

Cold therapy, or cryotherapy, uses cold temperatures to restrict blood flow and introduce health benefits. Cold therapy fits nicely into the R.I.C.E. (rest, ice, compression, and elevation) method and is increasingly used in physical sports to improve recovery and overall performance.  

Cryotherapy works by applying cold temperatures to the affected area through avenues such as ice, cold water, or liquid nitrogen. The cold helps to reduce swelling and increase blood flow, which results in faster recovery and reduced pain.  

As an athlete, you have most likely heard of the Rest Ice Compression and Elevation (R.I.C.E) method for recovery. So, combining cryotherapy with rest, massages, and other healing techniques should only improve your recovery and, therefore, overall performance. 

A typical R.I.C.E. routine would include resting your sore, achy muscles or joints and practicing cold therapy after your session. Then, using a massager and elevating the affected area.

When To Use Cryotherapy

Cryotherapy is helpful after training (or competition) and even more helpful for recovering after an injury.

You can practice cold therapy every day if you like, but it is the most beneficial if you need to train intensely on a daily basis or even multiple times a day. It speeds up recovery between daily practices so that you can recover faster in learning skills and being able to perform, but it can decrease muscle growth long term.

Cold therapy may be most beneficial after you train if you get sufficient rest in between training sessions or competitions. Below is a guide on when to use cold therapy. 

After a Fight/Training

Post-fight is a great time to implement a recovery routine. Martial arts training sessions and competitions require especially rigorous use of your muscles and joints. They have just been pushed to their limit and could use some T.L.C to adequately recover faster.

A study conducted in 2017 found that cold-water immersion (an ice bath) post-training helped MMA fighters have minor soreness and experience less fatigue compared to when using normal recovery routines. 

After a high-intensity workout, the cold therapy application helps soothe inflamed joints and prevent further soreness.

Before a Fight/Training

You always hear about ice baths after a workout, but did you know there are some benefits to doing it before beginning your training session?

According to a 2007 study, using whole-body cryotherapy in combination with a warm-up routine improved the performance of athletes—especially athletes who had multiple events over a 7-day period.

Keep in mind that you need to ensure that cold therapy is done more than an hour before the event or training session and a thorough warm-up routine will be needed.

Practicing cold therapy before a fight is most useful for martial artists who frequently train rather than those that practice a few times a week. Generally speaking, you get the most benefit out of using cold therapy in a post-session or post-competition recovery context, so if you have to choose one time to do an ice bath choose post-workout.

After an Injury

There is a reason you apply ice cubes after you bump your head or twist your ankle. The application of a cold compress reduces swelling and pain by allowing your blood vessels to constrict and numb the pain point. This also drops the inflammation and kick-starts (and speeds up) the recovery process.

How To Practice Cold Therapy

Cryotherapy can be easy to fit into your routine. Here are some of the most common ways to practice.

Cryotherapy Procedure

Going to a cryotherapy chamber is a great way to practice cold therapy. It works by administering liquid nitrogen in near-freezing temperatures into the chamber. It can be applied full-body or to a specific area, like an achy joint.

The cryo-chamber gets your cold therapy done in just a few minutes compared to other remedies, which can have you in contact with the cold for an upward of 20 minutes.

How Much Does Cryotherapy Cost?

Cryotherapy typically costs between $60–$100 per session. The amount you’ll pay depends on where you live, how many sessions you do, and whether you want full-body or concentrated cryotherapy.

Getting a cryotherapy chamber of your own could cost you between $10,000 and $100,000. However, there are ways to practice cold therapy that won’t have you searching for a facility with a cryo-chamber or spending tons of cash.

Cold Therapy at Home

Practicing cold therapy at home is the cheaper alternative to a cryotherapy chamber. Try out these cost-effective methods in your next R.I.C.E. practice.

Ice Bath

A great alternative to a full-body cryo-chamber experience is an ice bath. You still expose your body to temperatures cold enough to gain the necessary benefits; you are just exposed to those temperatures for longer.

To use an ice bath for cold therapy:

  1. Fill a tub with ice water.
  2. Use a thermometer to ensure the water is between 50 to 59 degrees Fahrenheit (10–15 degrees Celsius).
  3. Slowly submerge your body.
  4. Stay in for no longer than 15 minutes.

There are also other alternatives that might be easier and more sustainable without needing to go out and deal with acquiring ice or running an ice maker. Many athletes acquire a freezer chest and fill it with water, running it until it reaches a target temperature. It can also be quite cheap or even free to acquire a used freezer chest for these purposes.

Check out the video below to see a low-budget version of how to set this up.

Ice Pack

If you are not looking for full-body care and have one specific area you would like to focus on, an ice pack can do the trick.

To use an ice pack for cold therapy:

  1. Wrap the ice pack in a towel or cloth.
  2. Apply the pack to the affected area.
  3. Leave it on for no longer than 20 minutes.

Cold Shower

Cold showers are the cheapest, most convenient way to practice cold therapy. Simply hop in the shower after training and allow the water to flow around your sore spots or whole body. 

For best outcomes, it is advisable to spend several minutes in the shower, giving priority to sore muscles and body parts. 

Risks of Cold Therapy

Cold therapy as a whole is a very safe practice when done intelligently, but there are some potential side effects.

Skin Irritation

There is a potential for skin irritation after prolonged exposure to cold temperatures. Any irritation should not last for long, but be sure to contact your doctor if it does. 

Some of the signs of skin irritation include rashes or redness, which can occur when you use cold therapy for the first time. 

Hypothermia

There is a very small chance of hypothermia with DIY cold therapy, such as ice baths. A hypothermic reaction happens when you expose your body to the cold for too long, and it begins to lose too much of your natural heat. 

Thus, you must stay in an ice bath for no longer than 10 to 15 minutes. Any more exposure increases your chances of hypothermia.

If you begin to experience shaky hands, sudden drowsiness, or slurred speech, immediately get out of the tub or remove yourself from the cold. Remove your wet clothing and wrap yourself in a blanket. If symptoms persist, seek medical attention.

If you are not experienced in ice baths and cold therapy, make sure that somebody is with you just in case you need help.

Frostbite

Frostbite is similar to hypothermia in that it happens when exposed to the cold for too long, and it only happens in the most extreme cases. 

If you leave the ice near your skin for longer than necessary or do not completely dry yourself off before entering the whole-body cryotherapy chamber, the result can be frostbite.

If you notice your fingers becoming numb or discolored, remove the source of the cold, and place your hands in lukewarm water. If you do not regain feeling or color, seek medical attention immediately.

Oxygen Deficiency

Issues with your oxygen levels usually only happen from cryotherapy chambers. A session can include you enclosed in a chamber of cooling gasses.

If a whole-body cryotherapy session exceeds five minutes, the nitrogen vapors can deprive you of oxygen. Lowered oxygen levels can lead to loss of consciousness in some cases. Cryotherapy locations will be able to help you and monitor these situations, but doing it unsupervised can be significantly more dangerous in this regard. 

Avoid cryotherapy chambers if you have asthma or other respiratory issues. Instead, try out the other forms of cold therapy like ice baths, cold showers, or ice packs.

Benefits of Cold Therapy for Martial Artists

Onto the benefits of cold therapy! Here is what cold therapy can do for you as a martial artist.

Pain Relief

One of the big draws of cryotherapy is pain relief. Adding cold to your recovery routine not only numbs the existing pain, but it reduces your inflammation-based swelling. Less swelling means your injury isn’t as painful. The area of injury is both less painful and healing speeds up and leads to a much shorter recovery time in terms of pain.

Injury Recovery and Reduced Inflammation

A lot of the time, inflammation is what is causing the pain to linger around injuries and is an acute response that can cause swelling and additional damage in some cases. Using cold therapy directly addresses this inflammation and can slow down the swelling inflammation response and prevent further damage immediately after an injury and during early recovery up to about 72 hours.

By reducing the additional damage that can occur from acute inflammation, cold therapy can speed up the process of healing in terms of injury recovery. 

Also, when cold therapy is done, your blood vessels become constricted. When you remove the cold, blood and oxygen come rushing in, which also helps to speed up healing. This whole process can increase blood flow to the injury site, which is helpful for recovery. 

Decreased Stress and Soreness

A 2018 study on rugby players found that using cold water therapy after training resulted in decreased stress in the rugby players and reduced soreness. Using cold therapy in your routine can help reduce your soreness over time, especially during periods of intense training.

Cold therapy lowers cortisol levels (our bodies’ stress hormone), meaning you’ll have less systemic stress and inflammation if done after an intense training session.  

Improved Performance

As discussed, combining cold therapy with your pre-training routine if paired with a good warm-up routine before your event. This primarily happens because dropping systemic inflammation allows your body to perform at its best.

Cold therapy in post-training is even more effective at preventing acute build-up of exercise-induced inflammation so it is the best place to start. Also, dropping cortisol and thus reducing stress levels also helps improve performance as you’ll be able to maintain focus and operate with a clearer mind.

Final Thoughts

Cold therapy is a very useful tool for a martial artist, especially one that trains at a high frequency or at a high intensity. Martial artists that practice combat sports like MMA, Judo, BJJ, and Wrestling at a high level sometimes have very high recovery needs and need to sustain a pretty intense training schedule to be performing at their best.

In order to maximize your ability to recover, using available tools and techniques like cold therapy becomes impactful over time.

For more check out 3 Benefits of Chiropractic Care for Martial Arts

Andre

Hi, I'm Andre and I am the author of this website. I have always been fascinated with martial arts and train them as often as I can. I currently train primarily in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and train judo and wrestling as secondary martial arts. I help to coach a kid's grappling program that blends all three martial arts. I hope that you find the value that you are looking for in the articles on this website.

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