Athletes regularly take an ice-water bath after training or playing. It is known as cold water immersion/cryotherapy. It is used to relieve and reduce muscle soreness and pain after intense training or competition. From runners to professional tennis and football players, taking an ice bath is a common recovery practice. Many athletes utilize ice baths to help with faster recovery, prevent injury, and cool down the body. Here we provide some research on cold-water immersion therapy.
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Exercise causes microtrauma/tiny tears in the muscle fibers. The microscopic damage stimulates muscle cell activity to repair the damage and strengthen the muscles/hypertrophy. However, hypertrophy is linked with delayed onset muscle soreness and pain/DOMS, between 24 and 72 hours after physical activity. An ice water bath works by:
The effects of ice baths and cold water immersion on exercise recovery and muscle soreness.
More research is needed before a firm conclusion can be reached on ice-water bath therapy. However, active recovery is a recommended alternative for athletes looking to recover faster.
Allan, R, and C Mawhinney. “Is the ice bath finally melting? Cold water immersion is no greater than active recovery upon local and systemic inflammatory cellular stress in humans.” The Journal of Physiology vol. 595,6 (2017): 1857-1858. doi:10.1113/JP273796
Altarriba-Bartes, Albert, et al. “The use of recovery strategies by Spanish first division soccer teams: a cross-sectional survey.” The Physician and sports medicine vol. 49,3 (2021): 297-307. doi:10.1080/00913847.2020.1819150
Bieuzen, François, et al. “Contrast water therapy and exercise-induced muscle damage: a systematic review and meta-analysis.” PloS one vol. 8,4 e62356. 23 Apr. 2013, doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0062356
Fonseca, Líllian Beatriz et al. “Use of Cold-Water Immersion to Reduce Muscle Damage and Delayed-Onset Muscle Soreness and Preserve Muscle Power in Jiu-Jitsu Athletes.” Journal of athletic training vol. 51,7 (2016): 540-9. doi:10.4085/1062-6050-51.9.01
Forcina, Laura, et al. “Mechanisms Regulating Muscle Regeneration: Insights into the Interrelated and Time-Dependent Phases of Tissue Healing.” Cells vol. 9,5 1297. 22 May. 2020, doi:10.3390/cells9051297
Shadgan, Babak, et al. “Contrast Baths, Intramuscular Hemodynamics, and Oxygenation as Monitored by Near-Infrared Spectroscopy.” Journal of athletic training vol. 53,8 (2018): 782-787. doi:10.4085/1062-6050-127-17
Sutkowy, Paweł, et al. “Postexercise impact of ice-cold water bath on the oxidant-antioxidant balance in healthy men.” BioMed research international vol. 2015 (2015): 706141. doi:10.1155/2015/706141
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