Public Health: Can ice baths alleviate commuter back pain?
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Look around as you commute home. Most of us are lugging laptops on our backs.
Especially as summer comes to an end, students are starting or returning to university, pupils are back at school, and hybrid workers continue to commute into the city.
Pre-pandemic, leaving laptops in the office was common practice. However, post-pandemic, hybrid working has become the norm and numerous companies have implemented insurance policies prohibiting employees from leaving their laptops at the office. As a result, many of us are left burdened with hefty laptops on our backs - and not all of us have lightweight Macbooks.
Therefore, undoubtedly down the line, there’s a high chance we'll see mass back pain and studies about how we've been having to carry laptops post-pandemic and the physical damage as growing public health concern.
WFH may have caused pandemic-related back pain due to inadequate ergonomic setups. (The Guardian) Many companies design their office workstations with ergonomic standards, but the shift to remote work lacked these features. (Time) This has led to a notable increase in people unable to work due to neck and back injuries, as reported by the Office for National Statistics, reporting a rise in economically inactive individuals due to long-term sickness from “2 million to 2.5 million in the three years from 2019, with more than 70% of the rise – 363,000 – occurring after the arrival of Covid in early 2020.” (The Guardian)
So, what can we do?
Well, as Autumn signals the approach of winter with its dark skies, early sunsets, and bone-chilling cold, the winter blues are coming back all too soon. However, a remedy exists: ice baths and cold water therapy. A tradition dating back to 19th-century Scandinavia, is making a comeback. (Josefin Forsberg, Vogue Scandinavia)
Cold water therapy, despite its initial discomfort, has gained popularity for its endorphin-boosting effects and various health advantages, influenced by figures like Wim Hof and Chris Hemsworth, who explored it in the series Limitless. A TikTok trend also touts its hangover-curing potential. (Emily Abbate and David Taylor, GQ Magazine)
What is cold water therapy (cryotherapy)?
Cryotherapy is cold water therapy, involving methods like ice packs, coolant sprays, ice massage, and ice baths. (Johns Hopkins School of Medicine) “Cryotherapy includes whole body cryotherapy (dry air of −80°C to −110°C for 1–3 min), cold-water immersion (CWI), ice or cold gel pack application, ice massage or any other local or general application of cold for therapeutic purposes.” (White GE, Wells GD.)
Cryotherapy, including cold water immersion, can provide temporary relief for back pain, especially when it's due to muscle tension or inflammation, as cold temperatures can relax and soothe muscle tissue. (Bathing Solutions)
“Cold immersion therapy can help reduce muscle soreness, cool you down after exercise, help your immune system and metabolism, and even improve your mood. But make sure your immersion in cold water is brief.” (Rebecca Joy Stanborough, MFA and Gregory Minnis, DPT)
Cold water therapy aids pain relief by constricting blood vessels, numbing pain, and aiding temperature regulation post-exercise. Additionally, it boosts mood by activating the sympathetic nervous system, increasing endorphins, and promoting happiness through increased norepinephrine. (Emily Abbate and David Taylor, GQ Magazine)
According to a 2008 clinical study, “participants who took daily cold showers for several months reported decreased depression symptoms.” (N.A. Shevchuk)
Mood & Social Connection
Ice baths can induce real euphoria by releasing endorphins, boosting energy through increased mitochondria, enhancing mood and clarity, and stimulating skin's cold receptors. The Wim Hof Method uses controlled hyperventilation and gradual cold exposure to build stress resistance and emotional control. Gradual exposure, from showers to open water can build cold tolerance with numerous benefits, making icy plunges rewarding. (Josefin Forsberg, Vogue Scandinavia)
The communal nature of cold-water immersion, with saunas, breathing exercises, and mutual support during the exhilarating plunge, has become especially appealing since pandemic-induced isolation, fostering happiness and social connection. (Josefin Forsberg, Vogue Scandinavia)
You can alternate between either cold showers, ice baths and cold packs to reduce inflammation and warm compresses to relax muscles and improve circulation.
The Wim Hof Method builds endurance in freezing conditions through controlled hyperventilation and tai chi-like movements. Beginners start with short 10-30 second ice baths, while experienced individuals benefit most from two-minute immersions. However, caution is needed especially for individuals with heart conditions, so having a partner and a quick warming method would be best. (Josefin Forsberg, Vogue Scandinavia)
Five Alternative Ways to Reduce Laptop-Induced Back Pain
Laptops, even lightweight ones, can add significant weight to backpacks, which can strain your back, shoulders, and neck. So here are five preventive measures to take extra care of yourself, as recommended by the experts at Bathing Solutions:
1. Ergonomic and Weight-Distributing Backpacks: Invest in a high quality and ergonomic laptop backpack with padded shoulder straps and back panel for even weight distribution and reduce strain on your back. “Your backpack should not be more than 10% of your body weight, for example if you weigh 160 lbs, your backpack should weigh less than 16 lbs.” (University of Wisconsin-Madison) So, choose a lightweight laptop and ensure a proper fit. You can also use a rolling laptop bag for longer distances.
2. Posture: How you wear the backpack matters. If it's too low or too high on your back, it can strain your posture and cause back pain. So, adjust the straps and ensure the laptop is close to your back's centre and try to maintain good posture while wearing the backpack. (Verywell Fit)
3. Meditation: Stress can exacerbate pain, so practising mindfulness can help you relax and reduce tension in your back. (Vambheim SM, Kyllo TM, Hegland S, Bystad M.) Here’s a guide on how to relax. (Headspace)
4. Stretching and Strength Training: Incorporate yoga and pilates to strengthen your back, shoulders, and core, improving posture and reducing back pain. “Yoga and Pilates are both celebrated for their numerous health benefits, from offering connection to the body and stress relief, to developing flexibility, strength, control and endurance.” (Harper’s Bazaar) Additionally, take regular exercise breaks to counteract potential chronic back issues from extended laptop backpack use.
5. Cupping or Acupuncture: Alternative therapies like cupping or acupuncture to alleviate back pain. (Mehta P, Dhapte V.) As these techniques can help relieve muscle tension and promote blood flow, potentially reducing discomfort caused by carrying a laptop.
Overall, while cold water therapy like ice baths can offer temporary relief and improve mood, however it may not address chronic back pain's root causes. Effectiveness varies from person to person, and caution is necessary to avoid potential tissue damage. As people have different pain thresholds, influenced by factors like age, fitness, and existing back conditions. (Josefin Forsberg, Vogue Scandinavia)
To prevent and manage laptop-related back pain, invest in an ergonomic backpack to distribute weight evenly, maintain proper posture, take breaks, practice stress-reducing techniques like meditation, include yoga and pilates for core strength, and explore therapies like cupping or acupuncture for muscle relief.
Disclaimer: This story has been researched by Bathing Solutions and is not intended to be official medical advice. For any concerns about your health, please first consult your GP, who can provide advice and a referral to a physiotherapist or sports therapist if pain persists.