It’s a familiar image; an athlete who is tired, sore and hurting from a string of road games limps out of his uniform and reluctantly plunges into an ice bath. The pain, discomfort and sudden shock to the system is barely disguised on the athlete’s face, and for good reason. Jumping into 5 degree Celsius ice water is nobody’s idea of a good time.
Well, good news is that recent research published in the European Journal of Applied Physiology shows that cryotherapy, a.k.a. freezing your nuts off in an ice bath, shows no evidence of reducing soreness or speeding up post-exercise recovery.
The research was carried out at the University of New Hampshire, where 20 college-aged men were made to run for 40 minutes. Half the participants then got into an ice bath for twenty minutes, while the other half did not.
Three different tests were carried out in intervals ranging from one hour to three days afterwards measuring perceived soreness, quad strength, circumference of the thigh, as well as levels of plasma chemokine ligand 2 (a marker consistent with inflammation) in their blood.
There was no marked difference between both groups in recovery time, inflammation or soreness. In the words of lead researcher, Naomi Crystal, for whom the study was her master’s thesis, “it (the ice baths) don’t make you feel better, and it doesn’t help you perform better.”
This is in line with a video I watched recently at the CrossFit Games where Dr. Kelly Starrett spoke with Gary Reinl of MarcPro. Here is a link to the original video, appropriately titled “People, We’ve Got to Stop Icing. We were wrong, sooo wrong.” Additionally, here is the follow-up video that details some of the feedback/fallout that originated in the year following the original video.
(On a side note I recently ordered a MarcPro. At $600+ its certainly not cheap, but with a testimonial list that includes nearly every major professional sports team in North America and numerous world class amateur athletes, I’m willing to roll the dice on this one. I will try and post a complete review of it once I have had a chance to play around with it.)