Running & Fitness

Autoimmune & Ice Baths: Embrace Cold Therapy?

Matt Orlando
Follow Me

Back in 2020 when we were really in the thick of things with COVID-19, I had a brief illness which has basically become a years-long battle with autoimmune conditions. I have had so many tests and blood work-ups that I have lost count, but the ultimate diagnosis, to date, is that I suffer from ME/CFS (chronic fatigue syndrome) and Fibromyalgia. Which is great…for a father of three boys who went from running 30+ miles a week and striving to be the fastest version of himself…to someone who struggles to have a busy day of walking that doesn’t knock me out for 1-3 weeks afterward.

During this journey of learning about the body, the self, and all the in between, I began to formulate a rough idea that maybe the problem was something that I had dealt with before as a runner…lactic acid buildup. Any athlete can tell you that lactic acid buildup is rough on the body, causing pain and making forward progress difficult. Now, obviously, my autoimmune symptoms are far more complex than that. But what if, at the cellular level, whatever this illness that I am dealing with is, in part or in whole, a disorder of the bodily functions that help remove waste and toxins from your muscles and bloodstream. What if they just aren’t working…and how could I kick-start them?

I remembered that a long time ago, I learned ways to get rid of toxins like lactic acid from your legs…and all the ideas came down to this: getting the blood to pull away from the problem areas so that it pulls the waste with it. Well, what better way to do that than an ice bath? And so, I toyed with the idea for months and months until finally, last month, I decided to get serious and make it part of my daily routine.

I purchased an ice plunge bath/bucket-type thing from Amazon. I realized I could use some small plastic bins I had laying around to make some pretty sizable ice cubes. And I found, thankfully, that with this combo, the water stays at around 58 degrees F. Very cold, but right in the range of where the ideal temperature should be for an ice bath/cold plunge. So I began.

My first few times were short…3 minutes, 5 minutes. The hardest part was, and continues to be, getting in. Now, after a month of these plunges, I have found that it’s really just the first 30-60 seconds that are really bad…then it’s just cold all over. I have made my way up to 15 minutes but have found that 12-13 is a good range for me. To help the effects last longer, I don’t shower for a while or have any hot beverages. I let my body warm up naturally with some sweats and a hoodie (and socks, of course).

So how is it working out? Well, I mentioned earlier how I have not been able to exercise for the past few years because of my autoimmune conditions…the side effects are just too much. But, with these ice baths, I decided to give it a try. And so far…so far it’s ok. I have been walking for about 20 minutes a day. I know, sounds like nothing. But from where I was to where I am now, it is a lot. I am not going fast and not covering much more than a mile, but moving is moving and it is good for the body. My resting heart rate has dropped to the mid-50s…which for some reason I am always fixated on. I haven’t been able to lose any weight…but I’ll get there. Might I be able to run again through this? I can’t say, but what I can say is that, for now, I am feeling pretty chill about it.