• Renata Sander & Felipe Martins

Post-Exercise Ice Immersion Helps On Recovery: True or False? Find out now!


Controversy surrounds the effectiveness of the “ice bath” in terms of whether or not it helps muscular and metabolic recovery. The Athlete' Science clarifies some facts about this method that has been used by many athletes around the world.

The method of body heat removal by immersion in ice water, either with a bath, pool or chamber, is called cryotherapy. Many athletes use this method after hard training sessions and competition, with the intention of speeding up the muscular and metabolic recovery. This mechanism is attributed to vasoconstriction, reducing inflammatory reactions, muscle soreness, and slowing down the cellular metabolism.

However, if you have a habit of getting in an ice bath to speed up your recovery, I am afraid I have to inform you, but you could be GETTING INTO TROUBLE! No relevant evidence has been found among the countless studies about cryotherapy to suggest it helps muscular and metabolic recovery after intense physical activity. Therefore it can be concluded that the use of cryotherapy in order to speed up recovery is FALSE! However, there are other situations in which this procedure could be beneficial to athletes.

Understand the following facts about cryotherapy of immersion post exercise, all of them being verified by scientific studies:



It has no influence on lactate removal


ce immersion for lactate removal is explained by a great vasoconstriction effect on the vessels caused by the body's low temperature. A sudden vasodilation would help the blood to circulate in a higher pressure, "wiping out" the blood lactate.

No study has shown a significant difference of either blood or muscular lactate levels after cryotherapy.

(Extra info for the NERDS: Other indicators of recovery on our metabolism are CK (Creatine Kinase - enzyme indicator of skeletal muscle breakdown) levels, LDH (lactate dehydrogenase - enzyme that catalyses the interconversion of pyruvate and lactate) levels, and plasma cytosine (small proteins) levels. There is no evidence favoring cryotherapy when compared to control groups when analyzing any of those variants.)


It inhibits post-exercise muscle adaptation

We must understand that muscle damage caused by physical activity is expected, but those microscopic damages are positive and they are part of the training adaptation process. When microscopic damages in the muscle fibers happen, the body activates a sequence of inflammatory responses, which causes muscle soreness hours after the exercise, a process called DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness).

When the body is immersed in ice after exercise, there is an anti-inflammatory effect. Consequentially, the ice immersion inhibits the body's inflammatory responses to the muscle damage, not allowing the muscles to adapt to the training stimuli.


It can be harmful to the Nervous System


Decrease of intramuscular tissue temperature can change neural excitability (acute effect), having relevant consequences on muscle actions and motor coordination, both primordial for high performance.

Lowering temperature of extracellular fluid on muscles can also lead to increased stiffness, causing a great difficulty on executing movement and maintaining range of motion.

Moreover, several contraindications for cryotherapy exist because the method can cause tachycardia, hypertension (during), hyperventilation, and even a syncope due the reduction of blood on the brain, especially when immersion is done in the whole body.


It causes a post-immersion performance decline


Functional tests about the athletes performance verify varied aspects of strength, such as power, speed, and agility, are impaired from 15 to 30 minutes after cryotherapy. Anaerobic (intense) activity performance is also affected negatively until one hour after ice immersion.

This statement shows that ice bath can be detrimental to performance of the athletes if they intend to return to competition or training after immersion.


It simply produces an analgesic feeling in the body


Body ice immersion significantly relieves muscle pain sensation and soreness. This feeling of pain relief happens because cooling the body changes enough of the sensory nerve conduction at a physiological level that induces the analgesic effect. In other words, it hinders or lowers the pain stimuli getting to the brain.

One of the few ice immersion benefits that has been proven is the significant decrease of DOMS (delayed onset muscles soreness, from 24h to 96h after exercise), compared to control groups.

The pain-relief feeling causes a well-being and a fake sensation of recovery, which can certainty have positive psychological effects on the athletes. However, there is no evidence on recovery when measuring metabolic and muscular levels.

Other recovery methods used by athletes after training sessions and competitions will be debated soon. Stay tuned!



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#recovery #icebath #sport #athlete #cryotherapy

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© 2016 by Renata Sander and Felipe Martins.