Ice Baths Vs. Cryotherapy

Updated: Jun 8, 2018

Post workout recovery is a crucial aspect of training for athletes of all ages. Nowadays there are countless protocols and devices believed to help speed the recovery process after exercise induced muscle damage. NormaTec, electrical stimulation, and sports massages are a few examples of common recovery protocols often used by athletes. One of the most common protocols for recovery is cold water immersion. Cold-water immersion (Ice baths) follows a period of high intensity exercise. To undergo cold water immersion, a part of your body is immersed in a bath of ice or ice-water for a limited duration. Water temperature usually stays within the range of 50-59 degrees Fahrenheit for about 10- 15 minutes. Ice baths constrict blood vessels and flush waste products out of the affected tissues. They decrease metabolic activity and slow down physiological processes, leading to a reduction of swelling and tissue breakdown. Ice baths have been done for years by athletes in all sports. However, new methods of recovery have become more common and raised the question on which protocols are more beneficial.

Whole Body Cryotherapy, a treatment that involves short exposures to air temperatures below −100°C, has grown increasingly popular over the past few years. Cryotherapy is said to alleviate muscle aches and joint pain, but there’s limited research to support the claims. A recent study compared the physiological effects of Cold water immersion and Whole Body Cryotherapy, to determine which of the two produced greater recovery benefits in both chronic and acute studies.

The results concluded that cold water immersion was more effective than whole body cryotherapy in accelerating recovery. Strength and performance were greater in cold water immersion participants than whole body cryotherapy participants. Soreness and recovery perception was also improved in the cold water immersion participants after 24-48 hours of exercise.

This study showed that cold water immersion may be more efficient in accelerating recovery kinetics than whole body cryotherapy. I personally have used both ice baths and cryotherapy for recovery, and I believe that ice baths were much more effective in my recovery process. I believe there to be a mental bias in recovery that exists in each individual. If you prefer a specific recovery protocol, you may perceive that protocol to be more beneficial to your recovery. Ice baths are much cheaper and more convenient for athletes, therefore, I would recommend athletes continue to use that protocol over spending up to $100 for a 3 minute protocol that may not produce results at the seem level of effectiveness.

References:

Abaïdia, A., Lamblin, J., Delecroix, B., Leduc, C., Mccall, A., Nédélec, M., . . . Dupont, G. (2017). Recovery From Exercise-Induced Muscle Damage: Cold-Water Immersion Versus Whole-Body Cryotherapy. International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance, 12(3), 402-409. doi:10.1123/ijspp.2016-0186

Costello, J. T., Baker, P. R., Minett, G. M., Bieuzen, F., Stewart, I. B., & Bleakley, C. (2016). Cochrane review: Whole-body cryotherapy (extreme cold air exposure) for preventing and treating muscle soreness after exercise in adults. Journal of Evidence-Based Medicine, 9(1), 43-44. doi:10.1111/jebm.12187

Wilcock, I. M., Cronin, J. B., & Hing, W. A. (2006). Physiological Response to Water Immersion. Sports Medicine, 36(9), 747-765. doi:10.2165/00007256-200636090-00003




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