Navigate Up

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
  • Power
  • 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.

©  UPMC | Affiliated with the University of Pittsburgh Schools of the Health Sciences
Supplemental content provided by A.D.A.M. Health Solutions. All rights reserved.

For help in finding a doctor or health service that suits your needs, call the UPMC Referral Service at 412-647-UPMC (8762) or 1-800-533-UPMC (8762). Select option 1.

UPMC is an equal opportunity employer. UPMC policy prohibits discrimination or harassment on the basis of race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, age, sex, genetics, sexual orientation, marital status, familial status, disability, veteran status, or any other legally protected group status. Further, UPMC will continue to support and promote equal employment opportunity, human dignity, and racial, ethnic, and cultural diversity. This policy applies to admissions, employment, and access to and treatment in UPMC programs and activities. This commitment is made by UPMC in accordance with federal, state, and/or local laws and regulations.

Medical information made available on UPMC.com is not intended to be used as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. You should not rely entirely on this information for your health care needs. Ask your own doctor or health care provider any specific medical questions that you have. Further, UPMC.com is not a tool to be used in the case of an emergency. If an emergency arises, you should seek appropriate emergency medical services.

For UPMC Mercy Patients: As a Catholic hospital, UPMC Mercy abides by the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services, as determined by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. As such, UPMC Mercy neither endorses nor provides medical practices and/or procedures that contradict the moral teachings of the Roman Catholic Church.

© UPMC
Pittsburgh, PA, USA UPMC.com