boys_sea_baths

This is a pretty common scene if you live here in Melbourne.  A bunch of footie players huddling together the day after their game presumably forced by their old-school coaches to stand in freezing ocean water in the middle of winter.  It’s always said that soaking your legs in cold water helps them recover better.  Is this actually true?  I’ve also heard lots of contrasting arguments that state the hot/cold water immersion method is the most effective recovery technique.  Many people also vow that sitting in the jacuzzi is the best recovery technique.  Well the spa feels the best, that’s for certain.

I looked all over the internet and journals for proof that cold water immersion is effective for recovery and came up with this recent study that endorses it:

The study featuring in the May 2009 issue of The Journal of Science and Medicine
in Sport (JSAMS), published by Sports Medicine Australia, compared the
effectiveness of cold water, hot/cold contrast water immersion and no recovery
treatment as recovery methods in the 48 hour period following simulated team sport
exercise.

One of the authors of the paper, Jeremy Ingram from Body Logic Physiotherapy in
Western Australia says that despite past evidence showing cold water immersion
lessens the inflammatory response, its effect on delayed onset muscle soreness or
performance is uncertain.

“Exhaustive training and competition can potentially fatigue the musculoskeletal,
nervous and metabolic systems, as well as produce delayed onset muscle
soreness, which can compromise subsequent performance,” said Mr Ingram.

“It is therefore vital that effective post-exercise recovery procedures are used for
optimal performance,” said Mr Ingram.

Study results showed cold water immersion proved itself as a superior recovery
method.

“Cold water immersion resulted in significantly lower muscle soreness ratings;
reduced inflammatory response and consequent muscle damage; and better repeat
sprint ability and leg strength,” said Mr Ingram.

“Hot/cold contrast water immersion demonstrated little recovery benefit other than a
slight reduction in muscle soreness 24 hours post-exercise.

“Therefore to maintain peak performance, coaches and athletes should utilise cold
water immersion as a recovery technique,” said Mr Ingram.

The theory behind cold water immersion relates to the fact that intense exercise causes tiny tears in muscle fibers. This microtrauma not only stimulates muscle cell activity and helps repair the damage and strengthen the muscles, but it is also linked with delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS), which occurs a day or two after exercise.  Cold water therapy is thought to constrict blood vessels and flush waste products (such as lactic acid), and reduce swelling and tissue breakdown.