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A Cool Way to Speed Recovery!

08/14/2013 10:17 AM -

Originally published on the Athletico Physical Therapy Blog

Elite athletes jumping into tubs filled with ice water after a tough workout is a fairly cliché scene in sports movies, but for good reason. Ice baths have become a post-workout habit that countless professional athletes take very seriously.  Athletes will often cite reduced muscle soreness, faster recovery, and injury prevention as their main reasons for taking the plunge.
Ice-Cubes
Ice bath for post-workout recovery

So we know the claims, but that doesn’t answer how it works. The reasoning behind an ice bath’s effectiveness is straightforward. Ice baths are an extremely efficient way of cooling down the muscles, tendons, ligaments, and other tissues in the body, which is effective for reducing inflammation. That reduction in inflammation is a critical component to avoiding injuries, reducing muscle soreness, and speeding up recovery. The cold temperatures also cause the muscles and blood vessels to temporarily constrict, which may help flush out toxins and waste byproducts from a hard workout. As the body warms after an ice bath, the affected tissues experience increased blood flow, another positive factor in recovery and tissue repair. Although researchers are still debating the purported benefits of ice baths, there don’t seem to be any studies proving that they have negative effects. With that in mind, giving one a shot may be a cool experiment for you.

Making an ice bath is straightforward, but there are some precautions to consider before taking the plunge. Anyone that has sensitivity to cold, heart problems, or breathing problems should not take an ice bath. If you’re unsure or hesitant about your health history, consult your doctor first. One more safety tip – you’ll want someone around for supervision. If you’re ready to go ahead with an ice bath, you’ll want to fill a large tub with ice and water that is between 50 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit. I suggest starting on the warmer end and acclimating yourself to colder temperatures. Begin by just immersing your legs and work your way up to your torso with subsequent exposures. You’ll want to stay in for about 10 minutes, but not much longer as you don’t want to risk hypothermia. When you’re finished, give yourself some time to allow normal sensation to return to your body before heading off to take a shower. I recommend saving your ice baths for particularly intense workouts, limiting them to 2 or 3 per week.

I don’t need to tell you that your first ice bath is going to be a somewhat unpleasant experience. Just remember that the discomfort is temporary and you may be saving yourself some soreness and possibly even an injury. As I stated earlier, the benefits for ice baths have yet to be scientifically proven, so we’re left with anecdotal evidence in the mean time. If you give it a shot, let us know your thoughts in the comments on ice baths and how you felt it affected your recovery!

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