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Whether it’s a simple cold pack, ice bath or a higher tech application, athletes are always looking for the latest and greatest tool to aid recovery and minimize downtime between intense training sessions.
One of the most common types of cold therapy is the use of ice baths. Over the past few years, whole body cryotherapy (WBC) treatments have become popular, and are commonly used by professional athletes. Not everyone is a candidate for cold therapy treatment and it is recommended to seek medical advice before trying any new treatment.
How do ice baths vs cryotherapy treatments compare? See below for key differences.
Ice Bath Treatment
Research Says: A 2016 systematic review and meta-analysis in the journal Sports Medicine revealed that cold water immersion has a more positive effect on muscle soreness than passive recovery in both the short and long term.
Research Says: This is a relatively new treatment, so quality research is sparse. A 2015 Cochrane Review determined that the current available evidence is insufficient to support WBC for prevention and treatment of muscle soreness in adults.
As a physical therapist, I commonly see athletes looking for even the slightest edge to improve performance. WBC units are available at some health clubs, and mobile units are popping up at various sporting events. These may be worth a try, especially during periods of highly intense training. However, it’s important to carefully consider safety concerns and research findings when evaluating any new treatment.
Don't Stay Static
An easy, free and less chilly way to help muscle tissues turn over after a difficult workout is to simply keep the body moving. Being static, in the hours and days after a hard workout will only worsen soreness and stiffness. Incorporating a simple swim, bike ride or brisk walk can help the body turn over quicker and get ready to exercise again. Foam rolling or massages are great options as well.
Chris Gabriel, PT, OCS (Board Certified Orthopedic Specialist), CSCS (Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist), is a physical therapist with OrthoCarolina Matthews. Chris and his team treat a range of patients for orthopedic and sports medicine needs. He enjoys working with various local high school, college and professional sports teams.