Cold, Our Warm FriendSubmitted by Daniel Moore, Massage Therapy

Unless you’re an athlete, many people don’t take advantage of the cold when pursuing greater health.

Regarding exercise or sports, we typically think of ice as being used at the end of the training session as a means of expediting recovery. But recent research is pointing to the idea that ice may hinder your body’s natural healing processes if not used correctly (see this video regarding icing muscles).

“A summary of 22 scientific articles found almost no evidence that ice and compression hastened healing over the use of compression alone, although ice plus exercise may marginally help to heal ankle sprains” (The American Journal of Sports Medicine, January 2004;32(1):251–261).

You may have heard of the acronym RICE. Rest, ice, compress, and elevate. In 1978, Gabe Mirkin, MD coined the term RICE and it quickly became the gold standard for treating an acute injury. But since that time even Dr. Mirkin himself has come out and refuted his own theory.

“Since applying ice to an injury has been shown to reduce pain, it is acceptable to cool an injured part for short periods soon after the injury occurs. You could apply the ice for up to 10 minutes, remove it for 20 minutes, and repeat the 10-minute application once or twice. There is no reason to apply ice more than six hours after you have injured yourself.” (Dr. Gabe Mirkin, “Why Ice Delays Recovery”)

While some research points to the idea that ice can hinder the inflammatory response, there is another school of thought that believes that ice may hold the key to greater health.

Up to about 10 years ago, I used to pride myself on how infrequently I would get sick or have headaches. Then seemingly out of nowhere, I began to experience migraine headaches. If you are unfamiliar with migraines just imagine taking a sword and stabbing it right above one of your eyes while simultaneously feeling like you’re going to throw up. I’ll spare you the rest of the details but let’s just say it is miserable.

About seven years ago I came across a man by the name of Wim Hof, also known as “The Iceman.” I was drawn to his theory about using the cold to cultivate better health, not just physically but mentally. Wim incorporates cold therapy, breathing exercises, and commitment in order to cultivate: “increased energy, better sleep, heightened focus and determination, improved sports performance, reduced stress levels, greater cold tolerance, faster recovery, and enhanced creativity.” (Wif Hof Method)

I was curious to see if cold could work for me. Sure enough, within a months’ time, I started to notice I was no longer having migraine headaches. I also noticed I had more energy and focus, which is always a plus. (“10 Reasons Why the Wim Hof Method Freezes Migraines”)

Since I started using cold therapy, I’ve become curious as to how cold could have such a powerful, positive impact on physiology. The answer had something to do with the lymphatic system.

The lymphatic system is central to the healing process. One of its many jobs is to transport waste away from an injury site. Because this system does not have a pump, it relies heavily on musculoskeletal movement and changes in hydrostatic pressure to motivate. Therefore, walking, diaphragmatic breathing, and abdominal massage are so helpful in establishing and maintaining good health.

“The lymphatic system is a network of tissues and organs that help rid the body of toxins, waste, and other unwanted materials. The primary function of the lymphatic system is to transport lymph, a fluid containing infection-fighting white blood cells, throughout the body.” (Kim Ann Zimmermann, Live Science Contributor)

When you apply cold, your skin contracts to conserve and lock in heat. This stretch reflex of the skin is what we use in massage therapy to elicit a draining effect of the lymphatic fluid. This manual motivation is so effective that there is a style of massage dedicated solely to helping the lymphatic system called manual lymphatic drainage. But while manual lymphatic drainage works, it costs money and time which not every human has. Alternatively, cold water therapy is a readily available, cost and time effective way to bolster the inflammatory process by motivating the lymphatic system.

My mentor in Hawaii would frequently tell me about the benefits of cold therapy. He’d tell me that after a long day or night of strenuous activity he would free dive deep underwater and pick up a huge stone to keep him under. The deeper the water the colder it is. He said, “the cold is a great remedy for many types of injuries.”

In addition to becoming chronically inflamed physiologically, we can also become chronically “inflamed” psychologically. Next time you find yourself in a negative mental space that you can’t seem to shake, try taking a hot shower followed by 30 seconds to one-minute cold. You may find your thought process will be temporarily redirected. Sometimes, a brief reprieve is all that’s needed to regain mental clarity and focus.

While research regarding ice and cold therapy is ongoing, one effective way to really know if something works is to run your own experiment. In that way, you can control more of the variables; time, place, and season. Experience outweighs knowledge. If you told me 10 years ago that taking a cold shower or that running outside barefoot in freezing temperatures was something that could benefit my health I’d say, “no thank you.” But pain and discomfort can be tremendous motivators. As a holistic health practitioner and teacher, I believe that home remedy fluency is a must for cultivating wellness sovereignty. If we want to manifest the strongest, most effective, efficient, and adaptable versions of ourselves, consider introducing therapeutic doses of discomfort (ie. cold immersion, etc.). Remember to build your practice gradually, commit to long-life application, and continuous honest “me-search” for optimal results. As Aristotle put it, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” Taking a cold shower (30 seconds to 1-min following your normal hot shower) will have immediate, palpable results. Like exercise, the accumulative effect can be even greater than the short-term benefit.

Using your imagination productively can add tremendous power to your process. Your mind-set matters! Instead of dreading the cold, make sure to meditate or focus on the benefits you will experience while and after you practice. Next time the temperature plummets, instead of grumbling, consider giving thanks as you imagine all the health benefits the cold can provoke (ie. cardiovascular health, immunity, mental clarity, and more!). Take advantage of the amazing opportunity that discomfort provides. The raw material for amazing health and well-being lives dormant in most of us. The cold is a teacher who can assist us in activating this grossly underutilized potential!

While you run your experiments with cold therapy, remember to exercise caution. Always consult with your primary healthcare provider regarding any new form of exercise or therapy to make sure it’s safe for you.

If you are interested in learning more about strategies to increase your focus and overall wellness throughout these cold months, please join us for a workshop that has been enhanced with wellness insights and recommendations from Daniel Moore who serves the community as a holistic health practitioner.

Sustaining The Professional Self for Deep Work

  • Date: Friday, November 22, 2019
  • Time: 1 p.m. – 3 p.m.
  • Location: Building F, Room F315
  • CEUs: 0.2
  • Register Now

NOTE: If you missed this workshop, but are interested in the content, watch for a Sustaining the Professional Self podcast with Stephanie Whalen and Daniel Moore coming in Spring 2020.