May 4, 2015
Ice Not So Nice?

Although it’s a popular way for many athletes to recover following a workout, new research indicates that cold therapy may not be as beneficial as previously thought.

As reported on Outside Online, a recent study by exercise physiologist Jonathan Peake and researchers at Queensland University of Technology in Australia showed that ice baths may not help individuals recover after a workout. In the study, two groups of men took part in a bi-weekly resistance-training program. After each workout, one group took a 10-minute ice bath in 50-degree water while the other did a low-intensity warm-down on a bike. After three months, researchers saw that the ice bath group had not gained as much muscle as the other group.

In a parallel study, Peake looked at bruised leg muscles in rats and found that “for the minor muscle injuries, icing was detrimental rather beneficial, prolonging the healing process that inflammation brings.”

According to Dr. Gabe Mirkin, who coined the RICE acronym in 1978, these studies show that icing can stand in the way of athletes who are competing:

“About all icing is good for is a placebo effect,” Mirkin told Outside Online. “There’s no evidence that icing speeds healing or makes you stronger; in fact, it makes you weaker so you can’t do your next hard workout.”

Peake suggested that while using ice may have some mental benefits, athletes should not overuse it:

“It shouldn’t be used after every training session. If you’re trying to get maximum adaptation, cold water immersion is not going to be beneficial,” he says. “But if you’re in a playoff phase of the season, icing or cryotherapy isn’t going to be too harmful and might have some psychological benefits.”

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