Ice Baths For Post Exercise Recovery - By Sam Dunn (Sports Physiotherapist)
Ice Baths For Post Exercise Recovery
If you’ve played competitive sports you’ve likely had to immerse yourself into the frosty and agonizing depths of an ice bath. Ice baths, or cold water immersion, have been used for decades as it is commonly thought that they may facilitate quicker post exercise recovery.
Remember when you participate in strenuous or intense exercise there is micro trauma to your muscles and tendons. With adequate recovery time, your body recovers, adapts and becomes stronger, fitter or faster depending on what it is you have been training for. This microtrauma to the muscle is what causes delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS).
Ice baths help reduce the severity of DOMS and may reduce your perception of how exhausted you feel after exercise. Which is great! No one likes that slow and painful decent to the toilet seat after a heavy leg session.
Don’t confuse feeling better with recovering quicker. Several studies have done blood tests to compare the levels of various markers which indicate muscle trauma. When comparing athletes who have ice baths to those that don’t, there was no difference in physiological recovery times.
It must be recognized that there are a lot of variables and potential for bias within these studies and hence this information should be interpreted with care. Nevertheless, it seems that ice baths may make you feel better faster however, unless higher quality evidence arises that contradicts the above information, it should not be assumed that ice baths speed up the physiological recovery process.
Take home message, managing training load is important regardless of whether you participate in ice baths or not.
My personal opinion, use ice baths as a means for managing pain. If you feel less discomfort you are less likely to develop maladaptive movement patterns. If you still experience some discomfort in spite of your best efforts to minimize DOMS, remember that pain is one of your body’s best defense mechanisms. Some discomfort after strenuous exercise will likely discourage you from repeating that same activity, possibly preventing an overload injury such as a muscle strain.
If you would like to read more on this topic, check out the reference below:
Hohenauer, E., Taeymans, J., Baeyens, J., Clarys, P., & Cliisen, R. (2015). The Effect of Post Exercise Cryotherapy on Recovery Characteristics: A Systematice Review and Meta-Analysis. PLOS ONE, 10(9). Retrieved from http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0139028#sec028