Attention athletes: You might want to ditch the ice after exercise, if your aim is to ease muscle soreness. That’s the key finding of new research published in the European Journal of Applied Physiology that found post-exercise ice baths offered no benefit in easing soreness or decreasing strength loss.
While dunking in a tub of bone-chilling ice water is a popular post-workout regimen used by athletes to reduce inflammation and speed recovery, researchers from the University of New Hampshire found those who engage in the practice are no better off than those who do nothing after exercise.
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"It doesn't help you feel better and it doesn't help you perform better," said lead researcher Naomi Crystal '11G. "Ice baths are very popular as a treatment, but the research is really mixed as to whether they're beneficial. They're miserable. If it doesn't work, you don't want to waste your time."
For the study, the researchers recruited 20 college-age men to run for 40 minutes downhill. Afterward, half the subjects took a 20-minute ice bath, standing in a tall bin filled with thigh-high ice water cooled 40 degrees Fahrenheit.
The researchers then measured the ice bath's effect on soreness, strength, swelling, and inflammation an hour after the bath and then over a three-day period. The results showed no difference in strength or perceived soreness between the subjects who took ice baths and those who didn't.
Crystal said the findings came as a surprise.
"I expected to see an improvement in soreness, an improvement in strength with the ice bath," she said.
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