Cold or hot; Which would you choose? And although the latter is usually the most common, it’s surprising to know that cold water bathing has also been chosen for quite some time.
From being used as a tool by the ancient Romans to being used by Hippocrates, the father of medicine himself, cold water bathing runs deep in our blood and is still evolving to this day as we discover its benefits.
Bathing From the Beginning
From the start, cold water bathing was looked into broadly for the potential health benefits it might just provide. Thermalism, which was well-known for its beneficial effects discovered by the ancient Greeks, utilized water at various temperatures to help ease muscle fatigue and other health ailments.
Complications such as skin disease as well as muscle and joint pain were among the first targets for cold and hot water therapy while its other benefits, such as being a tool for relaxation and socialization as well, were utilized much later on in time once the use of water became more common.
Even Hippocrates and Plato, both pioneers in the world of modern medicine and philosophy at this time, were among the first people to actually study the effects of hot and cold water while documenting their benefits for scientific purposes.
Later on in Roman times, the use of water evolved even further as the regular use of bathing became an important piece for personal health. Soldiers after battle often sought recuperation in spas for example while the citizens of the nation also partook for social and personal reasons.
Bathing became a common pastime as a result and the construction of spas ultimately started to boom. The rise of aqueducts also pushed the advancements of spas creating a capacity for hundreds and even thousands of people to enjoy the pleasures of this unique and tempered water.
Galen and Celso, physicians of Roman times, also addressed thermal cures for their therapeutic properties which gave rise to Hydrology and the actual prescription of thermal treatments. However, it wasn’t until the Renaissance era where water re-birthed itself as a possible treatment for other human diseases.
As time and technology progressed, spas and hydrology became more widespread and their use for medicinal purposes also started to flourish. John Floyer and James Currie, two physicians of the mid-1700s specifically, utilized cold water for treating both bodily and mental diseases.
Currie for example incorporated cold water for the treatment of a fever while Floyer advocated for cold bathing in the specialty of pediatrics as well. Floyer hypothesized that infants and children were best suited to bathe in cold water as the temperature alone was important for human development.
Also during this era, physical exercise was also commonly prescribed in conjunction with cold baths with mud packs, massages, and strategic use of nature (such as gardens surrounding the bath) used to enhance the effects of the bath. These advancements, in total, inspired our own use for different thermal therapies today which are often practiced for similar reasons
Ice Baths Today
Moving forward to today, although ice baths and warmer temperature waters aren’t typically used to treat human disease as mentioned above, their use and applications are still fairly similar (with science now to back it up).
For example, ice bathing in particular is still used today as a protocol for relieving muscle fatigue and those general aches and pains. Other research and anecdotal evidence have also shown that colder temperatures, as seen with an ice bath, may also acutely help to decrease both muscle spasms and edema as well.
Newer discoveries, such as vagus nerve stimulation, have also come about while burgeoning research around improving the health of patients with COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) has been showing evidence of the benefits of cold water as a tool.
History Coming Full Circle — How Ice Baths will Continue to Evolve
From the beginning, bathing with both warm and cold water has evolved with the times as we noticed its effects. The benefits of cold water bathing in particular started as an idea that later transformed into a tool to not only improve our lives but civilization, in sum, as well.
And although the specific science and treatment modalities around cold water still need to be researched and looked into more deeply, the constant discoveries we make from its simplicity seem to have carried over from the earlier generations.
From the ancient Greeks who birthed the idea of thermalism, to the early physicians of the Roman and Renaissance times — the evolution of bathing continues to grow. Once being used as a tool to simply ease muscle fatigue to now being used as a method to also help stimulate our central nervous system, it’s clear that cold water bathing has more benefits yet to be discovered.
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