We all know that sports stars take ice baths and I am often asked why they do it, and do I need to do it after I run. So today I am going to answer that question.
Cryotherapy is one of long accepted tools of a sports masseur. If you have ever watched a football match on telly, you will have seen someone fall to the ground and the coach run on with a bucket of water and the magic sponge and the player then hopefully gets up and hobbles around before taking an active part in the game. So the magic sponge, (the application of cold water to an injured area) is Cyrotherapy in its most basic form. The local application of ice or cold water is beneficial because
It relieves pain
Reduces muscle spams (i.e. athletes take ice baths to avoid feeling stiff the next day)
When someone is injured it moderates inflammation
Probably equally important to all those benefits is that the treatment is very convenient, inexpensive and effective.
So to go back to the questions should I have an ice bath after training.
If you have injured yourself during training you should definitely follow the RICE (Rest Ice Compression and Elevation) protocol
Rest - by which I mean avoid weight bearing activities and anything that causes pain for 24 - 48 hours.
Ice - Use either cold water or ice wrapped in a tea towel and apply for 2 - 20 minutes for 2-3 days then 3 times daily. When applying ice you go through the cold, aching, burning and numbness sensation cycle, it is very important to stop at numbness to avoid burning yourself.
Compression - use a compression bandage if necessary
Elevation - if the injury is to a limb, elevate it to help it heal.
The only exception to using Ice for injuries is for people with a peripheral vascular disease e.g. diabetes, anyone who is hypersensitive or has a physiological aversion to cold if you are frail or if you have varicose veins in the injured area or the injury is a broken bone.
However, what if you haven't injured yourself, should you have an ice bath after training. Taking an ice bath or sometimes a cold-water immersion is certainly now more popular amongst athletes than ever before. The key reason is that as it reduces muscle tightness and soreness and it allows athletes to recover more quickly after intense training. The big draw back is that is uncomfortable and not really scientifically proven. My recommendation would be only to do it if you are training really intensively and you are not contraindicated (see above exceptions to using ice) and want to, as ice baths are optional. For me the most important thing to prevent injury and allow you to recover quickly is a well designed training plan where you build up the intensity of the exercise slowly, with adequate warm up routine and a cool down routine and stretching.
Remember if you do get injured or have tight muscles after training, a good masseur will be able to sort these out.