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2 November 2016

The New Hydrotherapy: Cold Water Shock Therapy

Hydrotherapy and balneotherapy have been used for ages in physiotherapy, dating back to Greek medicine where it was referred to as The Water Cure. Traditionally used to treat those with neurologic or musculoskeletal conditions, the end result is muscle relaxation, improved joint motion, and pain reduction. This type of therapy is crucial for recovering patients who are unable to engage in land-based exercises or who need to mollify pain in order to perform. Due to the nature of recovery, warm water is used; think bath-temperature. What if that warm water was replaced with cold water?

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Cold water therapy may be the answer to those who are unable to overcome their fear of reengaging an injured area. After sustaining an injury, when pain is the consequence of a certain action or motion, fear avoidance can take hold. Before the damaged area begins to heal, an increased feeling of fear to pain is normal. Once the healing process has begun, most people are able to overcome their fear and take the necessary steps to assume normal functions (i.e. rehabilitation). For some, the fear of future pain never truly lessens. Those people develop a pattern in which they refrain from engaging an injured area in order to avoid pain. If this goes on long enough, a person will fear work-related activities, movement, and re-injury. If allowed to continue, this avoidance develops into disuse syndrome, having detrimental effects to musculoskeletal and cardiovascular systems. Find more details about fear-avoidance here.

A publication, “Adapted cold shower as a potential treatment for depression,” posits that introducing stressors through thermal exercise can counteract depression. Scott Buxton, an extended scope physiotherapist, believes that applying this theory to hydrotherapy “may well be a new approach to managing this sort of catastrophizing pain behaviour and aid in breaking the downward spiral and facilitate recovery with exercise.” Following Buxton’s reasoning, a regular dunk into cold water can potentially help the body cope by making the coping system itself more robust.

Getting into the science behind it, this theory is said to work by triggering the nervous system and increasing the blood level of beta-endorphin and noradrenaline thereby increasing synaptic release of noradrenaline in the brain. As an added bonus, regular bouts of cold-water exposure can positively impact your body by acting as anti-depressive, minimising the chance of heart attack/stroke, or aiding in weight loss.

 Jacqui Litvan

Jacqui Litvan, wielding a bachelor's degree in English, strives to create a world of fantasy amidst the ever-changing landscape of military life. Attempting to become a writer, she fuels herself with coffee (working as a barista) and music (spending free time as a raver).