After a hot and sweaty run, the prospect of chilled liquid appeals to many runners. Water, a sports drink, maybe even a beer might do nicely to quench the body’s desires. But, the eyes widen when this cool cocktail is served up in the form of floating ice cubes in a bath tub sans purple toothpick umbrella. You can wear a warm hat, drink hot tea, and throw in all the rubber ducks you like, but I don’t know many who don’t hesitate even a little bit before taking this glacial plunge.[ad#inPost-Big]
For years the practice of the ice bath has been touted as an effective way to reduce pain and inflammation after a hard workout, motivating athletes to sit, teeth chattering, while the cold does its work. The basic theory is that the low temperature constricts the blood vessels in your legs, reducing the swelling. When you break free from the frigid waters and begin to warm your body up again, the blood delivers fresh oxygen to the muscle cells to help them repair the damage done by your 20-mile run straight up the sides of Kilimanjaro.
And yet, a study reported in the June 2007 edition of the British Journal of Sports Medicine contradicts the idea that this practice is beneficial to an athlete’s recovery. Scientists at the University of Melbourne and Sports Physicians ACT in Australia report that there was no difference between those who soaked in a tepid bath and those who got stuck with the cold treatment, except where pain was concerned. Not only was there a difference in one of the pain parameters examined, but this discrepancy counters the popular theory: in this study, those who took the ice bath reported more pain.
However, as the sensation of pain seems a bit subjective to me, and since there were no other differences, I’ll wait for more evidence before cutting out the icy treatment. So far it seems to mean I’m able to walk pain-free the next day.