Ice Baths Do More Harm than Good? | #runchat

I mentioned I wasn’t sold on the idea of ice baths, primarily because I had little desire to ever sit in a cold vat of water again. I decided to do a little research, as is the reason I am in this library profession in the first place. I love research!

I chose to search the database engine EBSCOhost for more information. If you have a local library, or live in NJ, it’s very easy to gain free access to this database. My search terms were “ice bath athlete” and linked full text for 159 results (many the same article). I did not search anything that would sway my results, but this is what I’ve found:

Dr. Costello said there was ‘limited evidence’ to recommend cold water immersion after exercise when compared to a traditional ‘warmdown’. (Ken)

While plunging into near freezing water can help athletes to recover faster at the peak of competition, they should be avoided in training, according to scientists at the English Institute of Sport, which provides scientific guidance to the British Olympic squad.

“Long-term use of the strategy could be detrimental to performance,” Mr Leeder said. There is also some evidence that the body becomes more tolerant of ice baths and so they may lose their restorative potency during competition when it is most needed.

During exercise muscle fibres suffer small tears that cause minor internal bleeding. This leads to mild inflammation, which manifests itself as achiness and an elevated risk of injury for a couple of days. Taking an ice bath suppresses these effects and the latest research shows that it can reduce pain.
“The inflammation is part of the repair process … The achiness after exercise shows that you’ve done something,” said Mr Leeder.
He conceded, however, that the unpleasantness of enduring an ice bath could increase athletes’ tolerance of pain and give them a psychological edge. (Devlin)

Reducing inflammation and soreness allowed athletes to train harder earlier in the week and it was a performance enhancer, although cold water might be more effective than ice water.

“After running sessions, recovery is not all about what water you jump into. It’s about nutrition, it’s about flexibility – we use massage – it’s about being active. So the hydrotherapy is only one of about six options we overlay.”
The water has the added benefit of creating hydrostatic pressure, which creates a similar effect to wearing compression garments and aids blood circulation.
For those without access to nutritionists, sports scientists, cryotherapy chambers or even a pair of compression tights, it is comforting to know the best form of recovery is the cheapest – sleep.
“In your deep sleep, growth hormone is released. Growth hormone is one of the signals for your body to grow, repair, regenerate.” (“Ice baths a poor tactic: scientists.”)

After sessions in the cold pool and a massage, by night time we feel great and ready to go the next day. Without that, you tend to feel sluggish and lethargic.(Smithies)

In the end, it appears that ice baths, much like compression socks, haven’t been around long enough to really know the effects. Personally, the idea of an ice bath doesn’t sound appealing in the winter, maybe in the summer. It also doesn’t make sense to me, when we avoid static stretching and frozen joints, why I would want to purposely freeze my body?

What I’ll take from this is that ice baths are useful when you are in competition and may be useful if you are training in heat, with more hard training to do the next day. If you are running one race, then another, it may prove very useful to recover quicker.

Otherwise, in general training, you might want your body to breakdown and rebuild stronger.

Let’s focus on sleep then…!

What do you think about ice baths?

What would you conclude from the above or other research you’ve read?

Works Cited

Devlin, Hannah. “The Experts Pour Cold Water On Athletes’ Trusted Ice-Bath Remedy.” Times, The (United Kingdom) (2010): 7. Newspaper Source Plus. Web. 27 Feb. 2013.

“Ice baths a poor tactic: scientists.” New Zealand Herald, The n.d.: Newspaper Source Plus. Web. 27 Feb. 2013.

Ken, Foxe. “Half-time ice baths can do more harm than good to athletes.” Mail on Sunday 24 Feb. 2013: 65. Newspaper Source Plus. Web. 27 Feb. 2013.

Smithies, Tom. “Cold science to giving rivals a bath.” Advertiser, The (Adelaide) n.d.: Newspaper Source Plus. Web. 27 Feb. 2013. 

Equipment used: iPod Touch 5G