Many athletes and people who work out regularly are looking for the most effective and quickest way to speed up their recovery time after a long hard workout. Many people believe that powders are the way to go, such as creatine. Other people are big on alternative forms of treatment such as massage therapy or water therapies. Some people swear by ice water baths, but do ice water baths really help speed up recovery time?

The ice water baths theory

Because intense exercise actually causes micro trauma, the ice bath works to constrict blood vessels and flush waste products out of the affected tissue. The ice bath also decreases metabolic activity and slows down physiological processes. This reduces swelling in tissue breakdown. Microtrauma or tears in the muscle fibers stimulate muscle cell activity and helps repair the damage and strengthen the muscles, but it’s also associated with delayed onset muscle pain and soreness.

What happens after ice water baths

After the ice bath, while your body is rewarming, the increased blood flow speeds circulation, therefore speeding up the healing process. Many people also use contrasts water therapy in place of ice baths for the same purpose. Contrast water therapy is where a person immerses themselves between cold water and warmer water. This is also an alternative medicine therapy for people with joint and bone related health conditions, such as arthritis. There is no set temperature or timer for how long you should do ice bath or contrast water therapy. However water temperature is recommended to be between 12 and 15 degrees Celsius and immersion times should be between five and 20 minutes.

While there have been many studies looking into the effects of ice baths, most studies are ruled inconclusive or are contradictory. However, in the treatment of health conditions such as arthritis, contrast water therapy is found to be effective. Athletes who use ice bath therapy seem to do better than those athletes who bathe in warm water or rest. Many athletes use ice bath therapy after each workout and usually take a few days off between each week of workouts.

Studies have shown that ice water bath may or may not help with speeding up recovery time. However, some athletes find it very helpful to practice this method often. The only way to truly know whether this method will work for you is to try it out. Every individual reacts differently and therefore one method of recovery might work for you and not work for someone else.