Recovery options after sport…Ice Baths?

 Ice baths are frequently used by sports people to recover after exercise. Cold water has long been proposed to reduce inflammation, swelling, muscle spasms and therefore pain, allowing athletes to perform at a high level quickly. Previous studies have found that athletes using ice baths recover quicker than those who do nothing after exercise.

 
However new research from the University of Portsmouth contradicts traditional beliefs on the benefits of this practice. A comparison of athletes recovering using ice baths versus those who did some light warm down exercise found….

Ice baths are frequently used by sports people to recover after exercise. Cold water has long been proposed to reduce inflammation, swelling, muscle spasms and therefore pain, allowing athletes to perform at a high level quickly. Previous studies have found that athletes using ice baths recover quicker than those who do nothing after exercise.

However new research from the University of Portsmouth contradicts traditional beliefs on the benefits of this practice. A comparison of athletes recovering using ice baths versus those who did some light warm down exercise found both groups recovered at the same rate. The forty male athletes studied also described no difference in their perception of pain between the two interventions. Lead researcher, Dr. Jo. Corbett said of the research, “ Ice baths are frequently used by sportsmen and women to help them recover after exercise but our results show they don’t work. They also pose a number of potentially serious health risks. If people using ice baths are receiving no real benefit then they should probably be advised to stop using them.”
 
The take home message is that if you don’t have access to an ice bath then completing some light warm down exercises could perhaps be just as beneficial. It would be interesting to see the results of a combined approach of warm down exercises and ice baths which is something that is more commonly practiced in the real world. This is a relatively small study and certainly not the final word on whether ice baths should be used or not. 
 
Post exercise recovery to enable a quick return to exercise is a much studied topic in sports medicine. Lactic acid, or lactate has often been wrongly described as the reason for post exercise muscle soreness. This muscle soreness is due more to minor damage and release of local inflammatory markers. Lactate is responsible for a drop in performance during sporting events, particularly in the second half of games such as AFL and soccer where players are engaged in multiple short sharp sprints throughout a game. Lactate levels return to normal without intervention within two hours, however active recovery at a low intensity has been consistently shown to decrease blood lactate levels rapidly.
As part of her Masters degree in Sport and Exercise Medicine, Square One physiotherapist Suzanne Rath completed a research thesis examining the effects of the ‘Power-plate’ vibration platform on recovery and subsequent exercise performance. Over a fifteen minute period (designed to mimic the average half time break in a match), she found promising results using a mini squatting protocol on the Powerplate. Although low intensity active recovery was still most effective, researchers in the Human Performance Laboratory in Trinity College aim to try different Power-plate protocols to investigate if its efficiency can be increased. Suzanne’s research was awarded best poster presentation at the Irish Faculty of Sport and Exercise Medicine conference in 2009.