Professional athletes often resort to so-called “ice baths” after sports events to fight the effects of practicing sports on their bodies.
Some say that dipping into “icy” water (10 degrees estimative) between five and ten minutes improves muscle recovery and can possibly boost future performance.
However, very few studies actually analyzed the subject thoroughly.
Cold Vs. Muscles – What’s Really Going On?
Most of us can recall using ice packs or frozen vegetables at home to decrease pain and swelling after suffering muscle damage.
Johanna Lanner is an expert in muscle physiology and a member of the Karolinska Institute of Sweden. She said:
“Cooling i) reduces nerve impulse transmission and thus reduces the level of pain perception and ii) induces constriction of blood vessels in peripheral tissues (e.g., muscle) which results in reduced fluid diffusion that may assist in reducing exercise-induced acute inflammation.”
Lion Roberts, an expert in exercise physiology from Griffith University in Australia, explained that getting immersed in cold water is also useful in restoring heart rate variability, a change in the millisecond time periods between consequent heart pulses.
Curiously, ice baths also have an impact on the human mind, just as much as it does on muscles.
James Broatch, an expert in the field of exercise physiology and member of the Victoria University in Australia, was part of a research study that analyzed the effects of ice baths with a placebo condition in which the participants were tricked to believe that it produces efficient results.
The placebo condition implied the participants took a warm bath with what they believed was dubbed as “recovery oil,” but was truly only a skin cleanser.
Broatch explained that the participants in both ice bath and placebo environments described their belief in the benefits of their designated recovery procedure, which translated to a comparable recovery of leg extension strength over a 48-hour interval after practicing physical exercises.
According to Lanner, ice baths are effective at “reducing the symptoms of exercise-induced delayed onset muscle soreness i.e., pain and stiffness experienced in muscles several hours to days (usually 24-72 hours) after unaccustomed or strenuous exercise”.
That is the main reason why ice baths are normally used for muscle recovery after sports competitions.
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