TUESDAY, Feb. 14 (HealthDay News) -- Taking a cold-water or ice
bath may reduce exercise-related muscle soreness but it's not clear
whether it can cause harmful side effects, a new evidence review
The use of cold or ice baths is increasingly popular among elite
and amateur athletes as a way to reduce muscle inflammation that
can lead to stiffness, swelling and soreness a day or more after a
In this study, researchers reviewed 17 small clinical trials of
cold baths that included a total of 366 people. In trials that
compared cold baths to resting or no intervention, cold baths were
associated with a significant reduction in muscle soreness one to
four days after exercise.
In most trials, participants spent five to 24 minutes in water
that was between 50 and 59 degrees Fahrenheit, although in some
cases the water was colder or participants were asked to get in and
out of the water at set times.
However, few of the trials compared cold-water immersion to
other interventions, noted the authors of the review published in
The Cochrane Library.
"We found some evidence that immersing yourself in cold water after exercise can reduce muscle soreness, but only compared to resting or doing nothing. Some caution around these results is advisable because the people taking part in the trials would have known which treatment they received, and some of the reported benefits may be due to a placebo response," lead author Chris Bleakley, of the health and rehabilitation sciences department at the University of Ulster in Northern Ireland, said in a journal news release.
"There may be better ways to reduce soreness, such as warm-water immersion, light jogging or using compression stockings, but we don't currently have enough data to reach any conclusions about these interventions," he added.
Most of the studies failed to report any harmful side effects,
so there is a lack of information about the potential risks of cold
water immersion. Higher-quality studies are needed, the researchers
"It is important to consider that cold-water immersion induces a degree of shock on the body," Bleakley noted. "We need to be sure that people aren't doing anything harmful, especially if they are exposing themselves to very cold water for long periods."
The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons explains how to
warm up, cool down and be flexible.