This is an idea that's particularly interesting to me with all the hard training I've been doing - last year, as I trained for my 1st 50-Mile race, then my second 50-Miler; and now as I'm training pretty aggressively for my next adventure. I also thought a few of you (Tonya, Marlene, Jennifer, Scott...) would be equally interested.
Now, we're not talking about responding to an injury. For that, you should all know about R.I.C.E (Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation). This study is looking at the practice of routine cold water baths after a workout.
The idea is that ice or cold water can reduce muscle soreness after a workout and help reduce any inflammation caused by the workout. Anecdotally, I can tell you that I have done this to great effect. I routinely stand in a cold shower for several minutes after a long run. I have found that I have much less feet/ankle/shin/knee discomfort after running 20+ miles when I do this.
The researchers found that there is some truth to what I have experienced. They looked at 17 studies (but only 14 were really useful) on the practice. They found that cold water/ice baths did reduce muscle soreness over the next 4 days by 15-20%.
The problem is that there was no consensus among the studies on how long, how cold, or how often. And each of the studies only compared cold water baths to doing nothing, not to any other treatment, like warm water, stretching, or massage.
So, cold water baths do reduce muscle soreness after a workout. But would a nice, comfy, warm bath or massage work just as well?
Another problem with the studies is that they only looked at fairly elite athletes. These were all people working out at a very high level. Would this treatment be equally effective in ordinary, casual exercisers?
And most importantly, would it be safe? Athletes, who's bodies are trained to operate pretty well under great stress, might react quite differently than the average person. Could the stress from cold water be detrimental to the health of someone not so strong?
Good questions that I (and the Ulster researchers) hope will be answered in further study.
Until then, I will continue to take my ice baths because I've found them useful. I will also cautiously recommend it (as I have already to a couple of you) in certain circumstances.
There's often a tendency for ideas and practices that have some truth to get blown up in significance, suddenly becoming the greatest answer to all problems. It's always important to do your research and find out the truth.
So far, the science indicates that cold baths can help. But there continue to be a lot of unknowns.
If you've had a hard workout, it might be worth experimenting. Come to your own conclusions for your own body.
And let me know what you find out.