Research: Cold Water Immersion VS Whole Body Cryotherapy
An international study on the effects of cold water immersion (CWI) as compared to whole body cryotherapy (WBC) was done to identify if one modality is better than another for recovery. Specifically, the study set out to examine the effects of CWI and WBC on femoral artery, blood flow and thermoregulatory responses.
The study method followed typical protocols relative to the methods being used in true athletic settings. Cold water immersion was conducted for 10 minutes of immersion in 8°C. Whole body cryotherapy was conducted for 2 minutes in -110°C temperature.
The participants were active men with a median age of 22.3. Once baseline measurements were taken, the participants cycled at 70% V02 max until they reached a body temperature of 38°C, at which point precooling measurements were taken. The participants were then placed randomly into either cold water with thighs fully submerged or into the cryotherapy unit.
Measurements were taken at regular intervals during and after the cooling method. Results showed:
- Greater reductions in thigh skin and superficial muscle temperatures immediately after CWI
- Greater decreases in femoral artery conductance after CWI
- Greater cutaneous vasoconstriction in the thigh and calf after CWI
In conclusion, “greater reductions in blood flow and tissue temperature were observed after CWI in comparison with WBC.”
“In summary, this study demonstrates that an ecologically valid CWI protocol decreases both femoral artery and cutaneous blood flow and muscle temperature to a greater extent compared with a typcial WBC protocol after endurance exercise. CWI may therefore be a more effective cooling modality due, in part, to the hydrostatic pressure of water and the greater ability of water to conduct heat.”
This research is important as cold water immersion and cryotherapy units become more commonly used in athletic recovery settings. It may not be equally effective to use WBC in place of CWI. Further studies are necessary to evaluate if, relative to WBC, CWI results in greater therapeutic benefits post high-intensity exercise. But these initial reports seem to indicate that CWI is an overall better solution for recovery.