Training can often result in muscle soreness and pain, which can be greatly alleviated by the removal of toxins and soothing effect generated by cold water. Ice bathing consists of immersion in ice water, and it is an essential part of the recovery process for athletes of all competitive levels and sports. Ice bathing has been proven to provide a variety of benefits for muscles, including:
- Reduction of spindle firing, which decreases the muscle’s reaction to stretching and helps it relax, resulting in a greater range of motion as well as increased strength and coordination
- Constriction of blood vessels, which flushes out waste products such as acids from the affected tissues
- Decrease in metabolic activity and slower physiological processes
- Reduction of swelling and tissue breakdown
- Decrease of the speed at which impulses are conducted along nerves, which desensitizes nerve endings and creates an analgesic effect
- Decrease of the severity of Delayed Onset of Muscle Soreness (DOMS), which benefits endurance and anaerobic performance
Numerous medical studies have confirmed the many benefits of ice bathing and its important role in the muscle recovery process. Below is a summary of the most significant findings. Ice bathing appears to improve recovery after repeated intensive effort and also significantly enhances performance in the short term (Vaile, Halson, Gill & Dawson, 2007). A similar study by Rowsell, Cout & Reaburn in 2007 further confirms these results. According to these studies, ice bathing contributes to maintaining performance at top level, especially during periods of repeated exertion in a short span of time such as during competition. In addition to the positive short term effects, research indicates that ice bathing gradually improves performance in the long term (Patterson, Udermann, Doberstein & Reineke, 2008).
A study conducted by Dawson, Ingram, Wallman & Beilby (2007) found that ice bathing significantly reduces muscle pain and retains muscle strength. Research from 2008 shows that ice bathing is effective in reducing the physiological and functional defects associated with local muscle pain and swelling, while it also helps maintain isometric and dynamic strength (Vaile, Halson, Gill & Dawson, 2008). These benefits were confirmed in a similar study conducted in 2009. In addition, it was found that athletes quickly recuperated to the level that they had prior to the exertion (Ingram, Dawson, Goodman, Wallman, Beilby, 2009). Research from 2009 shows that the benefits of ice bathing as a rehabilitation therapy are associated with a reduction in body temperature and improved circulation in the limbs (Vaile, Stefanovic, O'Hagan, Walker, Gill & Askew).