Effect of Cold Water Immersion on Metabolic Rate in Humans

Austin Greenwood, Cordial Gillette


Background: Cold water immersion is a widely used form of cryotherapy in the active population despite the limited knowledge on its physiological effects. From an injury standpoint, reducing metabolic rate is advantageous to prevent secondary injury. In contrast, increased metabolism can be beneficial in ridding the body of unwanted metabolites. This study looked to determine the effect of cold water immersion on metabolic rate.  Understanding this phenomenon will help determine appropriate clinical applications of cold water immersion and lead to a better understanding of cryotherapy in general. This study looked to determine the effect of cryotherapy in the form of waist deep cold water immersion at 9° C on metabolic rate. Methods: 10 participants from a university student population volunteered and completed a 15-minute treatment of waist deep cold water (9° C) immersion. Metabolic rate measurements were taken using a Jaeger Oxycon Mobile Unit for 5 minutes prior to treatment, 15 minutes of treatment, and 5 minutes post treatment for a total of 25 minutes. Statistical analysis was completed using a one way repeated measures ANOVA test to compare treatment intervals to baseline intervals. Results: Cold water immersion resulted in elevated metabolic rates for 8 of 10 participants during the first 5 minutes of treatment and for 6 of 10 in the 5 minute post treatment (p < 0.05). A second statistical analysis excluding the first 30 second data point in the 5-10 and 20-25 minute treatments was used to account for movement in and out of the whirlpool. The second analysis showed the same results as the first with the exception of one participant who no longer displayed a statistically significant change in the 20-25 minute interval. Conclusion: These results indicate that cold water immersion should not be used as a measure of reducing secondary injury because of its potential to increase metabolic rate, but instead may have potential benefits in exercise recovery.



cryotherapy, metabolism, calorimetry

Full Text:



Cataldi, J. K., Pritchard, K. A., Hart, J. M., & Saliba, S. A. (2013). Cryotherapy Effects, Part 2: Time to Numbness Onset and Numbness Duration. International Journal of Athletic Therapy & Training, 18(5), 26–28.

Eriksson, J. S., Rosdahl, H., & Schantz, P. (2012). Validity of the Oxycon Mobile metabolic system under field measuring conditions. European Journal of Applied Physiology, 112(1), 345–355. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00421-011-1985-1

Gregson, W., Black, M. A., Jones, H., Milson, J., Morton, J., Dawson, B., … Green, D. J. (2011). Influence of Cold Water Immersion on Limb and Cutaneous Blood Flow at Rest. The American Journal of Sports Medicine, 39(6), 1316–1323. https://doi.org/10.1177/0363546510395497

Holmes, M., & Willoughby, D. (2016). The Effectiveness of Whole Body Cryotherapy Compared to Cold Water Immersion: Implications for Sport and Exercise Recovery. International Journal of Kinesiology and Sports Science, 4(4). https://doi.org/10.7575/aiac.ijkss.v.4n.4p.32

Holzer, M., & Behringer, W. (2008). Therapeutic hypothermia after cardiac arrest and myocardial infarction. Best Practice & Research. Clinical Anaesthesiology, 22(4), 711–728.

Janský, L., Janáková, H., Ulicný, B., Srámek, P., Hosek, V., Heller, J., & Parízková, J. (1996). Changes in thermal homeostasis in humans due to repeated cold water immersions. Pflügers Archiv: European Journal of Physiology, 432(3), 368–372.

Janský, L., Matousková, E., Vávra, V., Vybíral, S., Janský, P., Jandová, D., … Kunc, P. (2006). Thermal, cardiac and adrenergic responses to repeated local cooling. Physiological Research / Academia Scientiarum Bohemoslovaca, 55(5), 543–549.

Knight, K. L. (1995). Cryotherapy in sport injury management. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.

Lee, D. T., Toner, M. M., McArdle, W. D., Vrabas, I. S., & Pandolf, K. B. (1997). Thermal and metabolic responses to cold-water immersion at knee, hip, and shoulder levels. Journal of Applied Physiology (Bethesda, Md.: 1985), 82(5), 1523–1530.

Ménétrier, A., Béliard, S., Ravier, G., Mourot, L., Bouhaddi, M., Regnard, J., & Tordi, N. (2015). Changes in femoral artery blood flow during thermoneutral, cold, and contrast-water therapy. The Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness, 55(7–8), 768–775.

Merrick, M. A. (2002). Secondary Injury After Musculoskeletal Trauma: A Review and Update. Journal of Athletic Training, 37(2), 209–217.

Merrick, M. A., Knight, K. L., Ingersoll, C. D., & Potteiger, J. A. (1993). The effects of ice and compression wraps on intramuscular temperatures at various depths. Journal of Athletic Training, 28(3), 236–245.

Merrick, M. A., & McBrier, N. M. (2010). Progression of Secondary Injury After Musculoskeletal Trauma--A Window of Opportunity? Journal of Sport Rehabilitation, 19(4), 380–388.

Merrick, M. A., Rankin, J. M., Andres, F. A., & Hinman, C. L. (1999). A preliminary examination of cryotherapy and secondary injury in skeletal muscle. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 31(11), 1516–1521.

Mirkin, G. (2016, October 13). Why Ice Delays Recovery. Retrieved from http://www.drmirkin.com/fitness/why-ice-delays-recovery.html

Mirkin, G., & Hoffman, M. (1978). The sports medicine book. Boston: Little, Brown.

Muller, M. D., Kim, C.-H., Seo, Y., Ryan, E. J., & Glickman, E. L. (2012). Hemodynamic and Thermoregulatory Responses to Lower Body Water Immersion. Aviation, Space, and Environmental Medicine, 83(10), 935–941. https://doi.org/10.3357/ASEM.3311.2012

Parouty, J., Al Haddad, H., Quod, M., Leprêtre, P. M., Ahmaidi, S., & Buchheit, M. (2010). Effect of cold water immersion on 100-m sprint performance in well-trained swimmers. European Journal of Applied Physiology, 109(3), 483–490. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00421-010-1381-2

Roberts, L. A., Nosaka, K., Coombes, J. S., & Peake, J. M. (2014). Cold water immersion enhances recovery of submaximal muscle function after resistance exercise. American Journal of Physiology - Regulatory, Integrative and Comparative Physiology, 307(8), R998–R1008. https://doi.org/10.1152/ajpregu.00180.2014

Romero, B., Coburn, J. W., Brown, L. E., & Galpin, A. J. (2016). Metabolic Demands of Heavy Metal Drumming. International Journal of Kinesiology and Sports Science, 4(3). https://doi.org/10.7575/aiac.ijkss.v.4n.3p.32

Rosdahl, H., Gullstrand, L., Salier-Eriksson, J., Johansson, P., & Schantz, P. (2010). Evaluation of the Oxycon Mobile metabolic system against the Douglas bag method. European Journal of Applied Physiology, 109(2), 159–171. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00421-009-1326-9

Sramek, P., Simeckova, M., Janský, L., Savlikova, J., & Vybiral, S. (2000). Human physiological responses to immersion into water of different temperatures. European Journal of Applied Physiology, 81(5), 436–442. https://doi.org/10.1007/s004210050065

Stocks, J. M., Taylor, N. A. S., Tipton, M. J., & Greenleaf, J. E. (2004). Human physiological responses to cold exposure. Aviation, Space, and Environmental Medicine, 75(5), 444–457.

Topp, R., Ledford, E. R., & Jacks, D. E. (2013). Topical Menthol, Ice, Peripheral Blood Flow, and Perceived Discomfort. Journal of Athletic Training, 48(2), 220–225. https://doi.org/10.4085/1062-6050-48.1.19

Wang, Z., Heshka, S., Zhang, K., Boozer, C. N., & Heymsfield, S. B. (2001). Resting Energy Expenditure: Systematic Organization and Critique of Prediction Methods*. Obesity, 9(5), 331–336. https://doi.org/10.1038/oby.2001.42

White, G. E., & Wells, G. D. (2013). Cold-water immersion and other forms of cryotherapy: physiological changes potentially affecting recovery from high-intensity exercise. Extreme Physiology & Medicine, 2(1), 26. https://doi.org/10.1186/2046-7648-2-26

DOI: https://doi.org/10.7575/aiac.ijkss.v.5n.2p.1


  • There are currently no refbacks.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

2013-2023 (CC-BY) Australian International Academic Centre PTY.LTD.

International Journal of Kinesiology and Sports Science

You may require to add the 'aiac.org.au' domain to your e-mail 'safe list’ If you do not receive e-mail in your 'inbox'. Otherwise, you may check your 'Spam mail' or 'junk mail' folders.