Effects of Ice After Exercise
For years, athletes have submerged themselves in ice baths and cold whirlpools to relieve tension and pain associated with sore muscles.
However, according to an article published in the Journal of Sports Medicine in January 2012, ice may not be the best treatment for aching muscles — in fact, it could even be detrimental to recovery.
Ice Therapy Research History
According to a 2004 study of the effect of ice on sore muscles, ice packs reduced pain in injured tissues. However, icing’s overall effect on sore muscles was not fully determined.
In a 2011 study, researchers found no distinct benefits from icing sore muscles. Muscles did not heal faster, nor were they less painful than untreated tissues.
In the majority of studies, researchers found icing was effective in numbing muscle soreness, but observed — for up to 15 minutes after ice treatment — significantly reduced:
- Muscle strength
- Fine motor coordination
Because ice reduces nerve conduction velocity, icing slows nerve impulses and directly changes the function of the muscles and tendons. Athletes were not able to jump as high, sprint as fast, or throw as well immediately following 20 minutes of ice treatment.
Use Ice After Exercise
Ice remains the most accepted therapy for acute injuries and recovery from intense performance, because it decreases pain and swelling associated with injuries. However, research has proven no benefits associated with icing and immediately returning to play. Ice treatments should remain the final step after exercise.
If an athlete is stiff from an injury after the acute phase, heat is generally better than ice, as it causes vasodilation and increases tissue extensibility. However, it is best to go with ice for acute phase pain and swelling.