Australian research is questioning the benefits of taking an ice bath after exercise but Paula Radcliffe, a British long distance runner, says that this is the secret of her success.
Many Physiotherapists recommend the bath to Sportsmen and women to prevent muscle soreness after exercise and to to speed up recovery. They claim that the icy cold helps shift lactic acid. The theory is that the icy cold causes the blood vessels to tighten, and drains the blood along with waste products such as lactic acid out of the legs.
But on the contrary, a study in the British Journal of Sports Medicine now claims that the opposite may be true.
Ice baths have become a most fashionable way to recover after an intense game or race. Adherents of the therapy include Paula Radcliffe and the England rugby team.
Paula Radcliffe says when she emerges from the bath, her limbs fills up with fresh blood which invigorates the muscles with oxygen and helps the cells repair. Although physiotherapists who promote the bath have had little evidence to prove this.
Out of 40 exercising volunteers, those who took an icy plunge reported more pain after 24 hours than those who took a tepid bath, the Australian study found. "This study challenges the use of ice-water immersion in athletes," the researchers write. "Ice-water immersion offers no benefit for pain, swelling, isometric strength and function, and in fact may make more athletes sore the next day."
In fact it was found that there was no difference in physical pain measurements such as swelling or tenderness, and in fact those who had been in the ice reported more pain when going from a sitting to a standing position after 24 hours than those who had the tepid treatment.
The nature of this effect of ice is still unclear and needs further research.
John Brewer, Director of the Lucozade Sports Science Academy, said he did not find it surprising that there was no difference between the two samples.
"I don't find it hard to believe that the ice doesn't have any long-term benefit, although I would question whether the ice group really did feel more pain after 24 hours than the tepid group. The problem with pain is that it is subjective and very hard to measure," he said.
"And because it's subjective, there may even be a placebo effect on those who take the cold bath. Its part of their ritual, it finishes off the endurance test, and many clearly report that it makes them feel better."