Ice baths after exercise; worth the chill?
The thought of plunging your body into ice cold water after playing football may sound like an unpleasant experience, but many professional athletes frequently immerse themselves in an ice bath after training or competing.[caption id="attachment_1801" align="alignnone" width="468"] (Picture taken from official Andy Murray website showing Andy and other in the ice bath.)[/caption]
Does an ice bath speed up recovery after exercise?
Research has shown that strenuous exercise creates minute areas of trauma to the muscles. This creates activity in the muscle cells, thereby helping to repair and strengthen the area. However, it can also cause pain and soreness anywhere between 24 – 72 hrs afterwards. The application of ice helps to narrow the blood vessels and flush out lactic acid and other waste products. This reduces swelling, breakdown of tissue and decreases the metabolic activity.
The water does not need to be ice cold; water at a temperature somewhere between 12 to 15 degrees Celsius appears to reduce muscle pain and soreness very effectively. Some athletes even alternate between hot and cold therapy and are firm believers that the ice bath principle is extremely helpful. When the area is warmed up again, the increased blood flow speeds up circulation and accelerates the healing procedure. Ice packs also offer a superb option and can be used and applied for anywhere between 5 to 15 minutes to the affected areas.
Why not a hot bath?
This may go against your better judgement as you may feel like soaking in a hot bath or shower instead, but this may in fact delay recovery time. However, this does not mean that a warm shower or hot drink an hour or so afterwards is not a good idea.
If the ice bath method really is not for you, try alternating hot and cold i.e. one minute ice bath, two minutes warm water, repeated several times. You can even make use of instant ice packs and hot packs if you do not have access to full bath facilities. A lot of footballers keep reusable ice packs and hot packs in their first aid bag, Koolpak being one of the most popular brands.
Many athletes and famous sportsmen regularly make use of the ice bath routine, feeling strongly that it speeds recovery, helps to prevent further injury and generally makes them feel much improved. It makes no difference which sport or physical activity you are involved in; if you are working your muscles hard, you need to take care of them in the right way.
The next time you are suffering after exercise or playing a sport such as football, try the ice bath technique, using either chilled water of the correct temperature or ice packs. It may be a slight shock to the system to begin with, but you should soon see the many benefits to your muscles as they recover much faster and with less pain and discomfort.