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Cold therapy is a technique that is very popular in multiple sports and disciplines with many high-performance athletes claiming it as an essential part of their training. Cold water immersion is used as recovery method where exposure to cold is believed to help alleviate the soreness of small tears that occur in muscles fibres followed by intense or repetitive exercise (DOMS).

Ice baths are thought to:

  • constrict blood vessels
  • flush waste products
  • reduce inflammation
  • help repair muscle damage
  • reduce swelling and tissue breakdown

It is generally used to treat a large area of the body rather than the concentrated cold therapy of a localized ice pack.

If you decide that cold water immersion is for you, here are some tips to make the most of this recovery method.

  1. Start slowly, since each individual will have their own cold threshold; most ice baths are between 10-15 degrees Celsius. Remember that colder is not always better, anything below 5 degrees Celsius can cause tissue damage.
  2. Avoid overexposure. Immersion should be 6-8 minutes and no longer than 10.
  3. Creating a personal ice bath may seem a bit daunting; many high-performance training venues will have a hydrotherapy pool or if you live close to water, keep an eye on the current water temperature. 
  4. Allow your body to warm up gradually, put on sweats and grab a blanket or warm drink afterward.

Should athletes be including ice baths into their regular routine?

Since research to date has been inconclusive, different coaches and athletes will place varying degrees of significance on ice baths, although most people agree that while they may not be guaranteed to work, when approached carefully they can’t really hurt.

References from the SIRC Collection:

1. Burfoot A. Change one thing: the big chill. A faster, colder way to recover from your long runs. Runner’s World. September 2003;38(9):18.
2. Doheny K, Chang L. Ice Baths for Sore Muscles Can Work. Sports Medicine Bulletin. February 21, 2012;:3.
3. Experts cold over ice baths. Athletics Weekly (Descartes Publishing Ltd.). November 25, 2010;65(47):82.
4. HEWITT S. TAKE AN ICE BATH — IT FEELS GREAT!. Cross Country Skier. January 2012;31(3):66-67. 
5. Ice Baths Fail To Deliver. Training & Conditioning. December 2007;17(9):8-10.

6. Rebel N, Hydrotherapy as a recovery intervention. High Performance SIRCuit. Spring 2012;2(2):18-21.

7. Schmitz A. ICE BATHS DO’S AND DON’TS. Triathlon Life. Spring2010 2010;13(2):52-53.
8. Simone M. Siberian Soaks: Does an Ice Bath Really Help Recovery and Performance?. Running Research News. August 2011;27(6):1-10.
9. White L. Performance Products – Ice Baths Use for Athlete Recovery. Performance Conditioning Soccer. June 2011;16(4):7-8.

The information presented in SIRC blogs and SIRCuit articles is accurate and reliable as of the date of publication. Developments that occur after the date of publication may impact the current accuracy of the information presented in a previously published blog or article.