Pain is a common experience for many people, and it can be caused by a variety of factors, including injury, inflammation, and chronic conditions - or even pain and soreness post-workout.

- by Susanna Søberg.

Did you know that the Egyptians were the first known users of cold therapy to treat inflammation? And, interestingly, Hippocrates, considered the father of cryotherapy, referenced the use of snow and ice to combat swelling in his writings. Cold therapy, as a tool for alleviating pain and inflammation, has a long history, yet the biological mechanisms behind how cold exposure reduces pain and swelling still hold some mysteries. Today, I'll shed light on some of these answers.

First, let's clarify some terms that can sometimes cause confusion.

What is Cold Water Therapy?

"Cryotherapy" is a broad term encompassing various cold exposure methods, including cold-water immersion, exposure to cold air in cryochambers, or using ice packs to alleviate symptoms by removing heat, reducing core body temperature, and altering blood flow to the injured area. This, in turn, yields benefits such as reduced perception of pain and improved overall well-being, especially during post-exercise recovery and/or after injury.

Whole-body cryotherapy, developed in Japan in the 1970s, is an extreme cold therapy lasting 1–3 minutes, conducted in a cold room with an air temperature of -110˚C. Widely used in several European countries, it is primarily employed for medical reasons. Winter swimming also falls under the category of whole-body cryotherapy and has been utilized for centuries in Denmark, serving both as a treatment for rheumatic diseases and as a recreational pastime in frozen waters.

Biological Explanations for Pain Relief with Cold Exposure

Cold therapy, renowned for its pain-relieving and anti-inflammatory effects, has been used anecdotally for many years. Hormones frequently studied in relation to whole-body cold exposure include catecholamines: adrenaline, noradrenaline, endogenous opioids (β-endorphins), and the steroid hormone cortisol. Dopamine also plays a significant role in pain relief. β-endorphins, often referred to as our "natural painkillers," are a potent means of reducing pain and enhancing quality of life. However, other hormones and neurotransmitters contribute to the process.

Here's a summary of key hormone-related facts:

  • Catecholamines, including adrenaline and noradrenaline and the steroid hormone cortisol, are frequently studied in relation to cold exposure.

Post-Workout Recovery: Noradrenaline and Cold Water Immersion

Unlock the Power: Noradrenaline and Cold Water Immersion Discover the Secret: Easing Joint and Muscle Pain

If you are interested in maximizing your workout recovery, cold water immersion is a fast solution for pain relief. Research shows that noradrenaline levels increase during the initial few minutes when you submerge in cold water, providing a natural remedy for discomfort. By stimulating both noradrenaline and dopamine, cold water can help alleviate joint and muscle pain, facilitating accelerated muscle repair.

Cold Water Immersion for Chronic Pain Management 

Both whole-body cryotherapy and cold-water immersion can be employed for managing various types of pain, including acute injuries (such as sprains, strains, and bruises), chronic pain conditions (like arthritis and fibromyalgia), post-surgical pain, headaches, and migraines.

Whether you are seeking cold water immersion for post-workout recovery or seeking relief from chronic pain, cold therapy continues to prove its effectiveness through various biological pathways.

The Thermalist Education with Dr. Susanna Søberg

You can learn more on cold and heat exposure, coupled with healthy breathing techniques, to enhance overall well-being through The Thermalist Education. This comprehensive program stands as a vital pillar in understanding the role of temperature in promoting healthy stress. Becoming proficient in teaching and practicing temperature-related fitness for health and wellness demands a combination of knowledge, practical experience, and education.

After you get the Thermalist Instructor certification you gain exclusive access to health programs, such as the 3 Weeks Thermalist Cure program. The 3 Weeks Thermalist Cure program is a health journey, which you will learn online. You can use it as a program at your facility. Our online, self-paced courses deliver intricate scientific concepts in an easily digestible format through engaging video content with Dr. Susanna Søberg. All the content is created by Susanna and curated by fellow scientist in different scientific fields such as neuroscience, epidemiology, human biology, molecular biology and genetics etc. 

Each module in the education is designed to be bite-sized and effortlessly comprehensible. The education equips you with the basic and essential insights to commence your health-oriented endeavors, whether you aim to incorporate these teachings into your outdoor events or integrate them into your spa/clinics.

For those ready to embark on expertise and work science based, we encourage to enroll in The Thermalist Education for Instructors. Alternatively, if you manage a clinic or spa, explore our bundle offer, which includes a discounted rate and a licensing opportunity to collaborate with Susanna: The Thermalist Education for Spa and Clinics. This not only empowers you to impart the practice but also ensures a thorough understanding of its benefits and the requisite safety measures for your clientele.

Join us on the forefront of the fitness landscape where the future of temperature as a fitness tool involves mastering the art of "Stress up to stress down."

Learn more about Thermalist Education