Cryotherapy vs. Ice Bath


I know, the heading makes it sound like we are about to watch a boxing match, but alas, this is just a review of two ways that we can heal broken muscles and joints (and certainly not broken bones, you need a plaster for those). We are speaking of ice bathing, and all that comes with it, as well as cryotherapy, also including all that which it brings along.

Cryotherapy is a 2 to 3 minutes procedure that involves exposing your body to extensively cooled air, ranging from -200 to -240° F. The cold helps to trigger the body’s natural healing mechanisms in a number of ways, one of which is aiding the distribution of nutrients, such as proteins, to injured muscles. On the other hand, ice bathing, is indeed a not-so-cool method of lowering body temperatures using water that has its temperatures dropped using ice-cubes. With this process, ice-cubes are put into cold water, inside a tub, where a patient immerses him or herself for a certain period of time. Just like with cryotherapy, this process is meant to aid the muscle-healing process with an anticipated quick recovery process.

But, is ice bathing really as effective as cryotherapy?

Ice baths


We would have loved to make the famous comparison between cryotherapy and ice bathing right away, but first, we ought to look a bit into the history of ice bathing, and also the coming of cryotherapy and all the fancy machines that are used in the process.

With ice bathing, you need no machine, except for a tub filled with water and ice-cubes, or ice blocks (because we are about to go way back into history when they did not have those small trays and fancy freezers to make ice-cubes). Whether you go deep in the water naked or not, still, you must put your body inside this iced water for it to work.

The history of ice-bathing dates back to between 460 and 370 BC, where Hippocrates, a Greek physician who ranks among the most influential figures in the history of medicine, is often credited as being the first person to document the health benefits of hydrotherapy. However, we do have records also going back as far as 2500 BC, where Egyptians are known to have used the cold to treat injuries and inflammation.

Therefore, we do have ancient Chinese, Egyptian, Greek, and Roman civilizations as people who continued to record the medicinal uses of hydrotherapy. I hope you did not get confused by the term ‘hydrotherapy’ here, it just comes from the term ‘hydropathy’, which simply means ‘the water cure’. The inclusion of this new term (hydropathy) in the ancient cold water treatment history indeed suggests that ancient civilizations already knew the benefits of water and its many applications.

Cold water treatment remained in use through to the 19th century. Some literature refers to Mark Twain, and how he remembers when the ‘cold water cure’ was first spoken about in 1844. By this time, the man was only nine years old. During those days, and still in this day by some people, the ‘cold water cure’ involved throwing buckets of cold water over and over on one’s head. The person would then be wrapped in a sheet wet with ice water. Most people today, however, do it this way for fun, like during an ice-bucket celebrity challenge as most have moved to dipping themselves in ice-water tubs.

Speaking of people in this day, an even trendy way of getting your body really cold, while healing your body, is now in town, or it has been for a number of years now.


Former  @saints  running back and super bowl champ Pierre Thomas taking care of his body at the Goat!

Former @saints running back and super bowl champ Pierre Thomas taking care of his body at the Goat!

Cryotherapy is now the new, advanced form of cold treatment. Even though it is thought to be a little pricey, celebrities are increasingly liking this method of treating injured muscles and painful joints. Cryotherapy thus is increasingly replacing ice-baths in a journey that is going to take a number of years, mainly because of how much it costs to get into a cryo chamber for a few minutes – it still sounds cool and can thus only grow in popularity.

In 1961, Irving S. Cooper, who was a brilliant neurosurgeon and specialized in patients with what was thought to be “untreatable diseases’’ developed the first closed cryo-probe system, which ushered in the modern era of cryogenic surgery.

So, one thing led to another, and as we progressed into the modern medical era, we found ourselves with manufactured cryo chambers!

What are the major differences between ice bathing and cryotherapy?

We have already mentioned how cool cryotherapy is as compared to ice bathing, but really, just the mere fact that one sounds nicer should not be the only difference between these two. We highlight as many other differences between them below:

First is how the two methods deliver treatment, whether during or after going through the procedure. During the 2-3 minutes of healing therapy using cryotherapy, your brains stimulate the body’s several organ regulatory functions resulting in energy increase, cell upgrading, immune system lift, increased endorphins and adrenaline, including an overall system self-healing. Sounds really like a perfect way of healing your injured muscles, but what about ice bathing?


Well, with ice bathing, the cold water causes the body to warm blood in its core so that it can be transported to dilated vessels in the outer tissues. This process forces your body to go beyond itself in preventing the skin’s surface from freezing. The sound of the body ‘going beyond itself’ is not so pleasant, we could do with a less pressurized internal body. Nevertheless, someone ought to recover after such a process, and how fast this happens is dependent on the experience of the user.

Using cryotherapy, the cold air is used instead of the extremely cold water, which causes the body to respond to triggered cold sensors in the skin’s surface instead of the deeply penetrating cold of the ice bath. Therefore, in a cold bath your body actually feels like it’s freezing, literally, whereas cryotherapy merely ‘tricks’ the body into applying improved healing mechanisms, and doing so without the penetrating cold of ice baths. This leads to a more comfortable healing process as opposed to ice bathing which risks the body from hypothermia (reduced body temperature).

Thus, you are better off with a not-so-freezing process which only takes 3-4 minutes, that is cryotherapy, than an ice bathing, freezing, process which takes between 15 and 20 minutes, putting your body in severe risks.

You could be asking yourself how? Well, Cryotherapy gets down to -280 degrees Fahrenheit very fast, thus cooling your outer body, while an ice bath doesn’t make it below 50-degrees, meaning you have to sit in there for close to 30 minutes just to lower your internal temperatures to that level. So, instead of lowering your outer temperatures only, ice bathing lowers your inner core, which we have mentioned that it may be quite deadly.

In addition, cryotherapy treatment is more comfortable than using an ice bath. It also increases the production of collagen, responsible for keeping your joints strong and protected by strong cartilage. If you are willing to invest on quality health care, you are better off using cryotherapy which has all these benefits, including enriching your blood, than just getting yourself wet in a tub filled with iced water for little benefits. The choice is yours in the end, but you should, however, choose well and live happily ever!

Learn more about the benefits of cryotherapy and check out the many cryotherapy clinical studies.

Reza Sarmadi