Thursday, February 16, 2012

Ice Baths: Good For The Legs, If You're a Crazy Runner

I remember the first time I sat in a bathtub filled with ice with my running shorts on.

That was the day that I officially declared myself crazy.

It's all in the good nature of the sport, but, man, runners do have some strange cure-alls. I remember I had attempted to ease in at first, but then discovered that it was impossible, so I just plopped down. Ooh, those first five minutes are bad. You try to think of other things, but your brain won't allow it. (Something like "I wonder what I'll eat for ... AHH MY LEGS.) After a while, it all goes numb. It hurts so good.

Looks like fun.
I know that ice baths make my legs feel better for the rest of that day, but I've never truly been able to measure how much it helps the next day, and the next. I know that many runners swear by this, but does it actually work?

Some studies before have proven that it does (Although many of the studies are contradictory). This month, one study has concluded that ice baths absolutely help you recover. The study, published in The Cochrane Library this month, compared the muscle soreness of those who took an ice bath following strenuous activity and those who didn't. The study authors found that the baths help decrease muscle soreness one, two and three days after a muscle-fatiguing workout. It is especially true for what the authors call "running-based exercises." I'm pretty sure this means running, but who knows.

Runner's World agrees. This article states, "Cryotherapy ("cold therapy") constricts blood vessels and decreases metabolic activity, which reduces swelling and tissue breakdown. Once the skin is no longer in contact with the cold source, the underlying tissues warm up, causing a return of faster blood flow, which helps return the byproducts of cellular breakdown to the lymph system for efficient recycling by the body."

In their study, ice bath recovery wasn't compared to a warm bath, light jogging, or compression socks.The authors also acknowledged that they aren't sure if ice baths are particularly safe (considering they do cause the body to go into a state of shock). The authors of the new study noted that there needs to be a lot more done to look into the affects of ice baths, and I agree.

Do you use ice baths to recover from long runs or other exercises? If so,  how cold, how much ice, etc?

Do you feel better the next day if you take an ice bath?

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