Ice baths have become more popular as of late.
It almost seems like every time you log into social media, you see video of someone dunking themselves into ice water.
But you may also see this practiced among athletes of all styles—from weight-trainers, to runners, to fighters.
Well, supposedly, this practice has a lot of health benefits.
Though it also comes with some risks.
So, in this post, we’re going to get to the bottom of it.
Do ice baths really boast good enough health benefits that they’re worth the risk?
That’s a great question.
Let’s dive in and unpack it with science.
The Basics: The Upsides
A lot of people believe in the benefits of cold water immersion—also called ‘cryotherapy.’
JoinFightCamp.com lists the benefits of such therapy as follows:
- It helps with muscle recovery
- It stimulates the central nervous system
- It boosts metabolism
- It helps to develop breathing
- It promotes mental health
Verywellfit.com also says that cold water immersion is used by many athletes because it comes with a range of benefits, including:
- Faster muscle recovery
- A reduction in muscle pain and soreness after intense training sessions
Now, with all of this being said, there are also supposedly some doubts about whether this technique works.
Let’s talk about this perspective, based on information supplied in the above-linked Verywellfit.com article on the subject.
The Doubts About Ice Bath Effectiveness
As it turns out, evidence for the benefit of ice baths isn’t necessarily as conclusive as some people describe the experience to be.
For example, here’s one quote from the Verywellfit.com blog post on the topic:
“Research suggests that icing muscles immediately after maximal exercise suppresses inflammation, hinders muscle fiber growth, and delays muscle regeneration. This would be bad news for athletes who are trying to increase muscle size and strength.”
This was followed up by another statement, which really helps to summarize the science on the topic:
“A Cochrane review of 17 studies concluded there was some evidence that cold-water immersion reduced delayed onset muscle soreness when it was compared to rest or no intervention. There wasn’t enough evidence to conclude whether or not it improved fatigue or recovery. The most effects were seen in studies of running. All of the studies were of low quality and didn’t have a standard for adverse effects or follow up with the participants actively.”
As it stands, there’s a lot of anecdotal evidence supporting the idea of using ice baths as a post-workout recovery aid.
But the actual physical science lacks substantial evidence to point to it as absolutely sound.
At the end of the day, this may be one of those things to try on your own—to see if it works for you.
Or, you can just skip it in favor of something that isn’t quite as ‘jarring’ to your system.
In any case, the jury is still out on whether or not science will agree with the many athletes who utilize it.