Ice Baths - Miracle Cure or Mythical Torture?

Major leaguers across the world play difficult games or complete tough practices, cool down, stretch, and then plunge into iced down water at the cool temperature of around 45 - 55 degrees Fahrenheit. This is a practice that is very common, but the Orlando women’s soccer experts at QueensCast have one main question; are ice baths a miracle cure or just a mythical torture. Today, we hope to find out.

The Science Behind the Ice Bath

There are many reasons athletes hop in the ice bath after a long day. First, it can be refreshing, especially after playing a humid game outside. Additionally, it is a way of bonding with the team. Spending eight minutes together where you can do nothing but chat can enhance the bond that team members have created while on the field. Although, there is one main reason that athletic trainers, sports doctors, and coaches are making ice baths mandatory: science.

Ice baths cause a process called vasoconstriction. By hopping into an ice bath, swelling caused by strenuous exercise is minimized. In fact, even the opportunity to swell is supposedly minimized. When you exercise, blood gets moving very quickly. When you stop, the idea is that the ice bath will slow down the blood, which decreases swelling. Decreased swelling should lead to a decreased recovery time that is needed between events or practices. “A lot of running athletes feel that it really helps in their recuperation process,” says John Gallucci, the Medical Coordinator for Major League Soccer.

Proving the Science

Gallucci’s statement leads us to another question. Do athletes just feel that it helps in recovery, or does science actually prove that to be true? It seems like it really depends on who you ask. One study published in the Medicine and Science in Sports & Exercise Journal studied nine men after a 30-minute run. Each runner put one leg into the ice bath and the other was left out. Researchers used a near-infrared spectroscopy to monitor each runner. The results suggested that the ice bath reduces muscle activity and slowed the flow of blood, supporting the claim that ice baths can reduce inflammation. Alternatively, a 2017 study published in the Journal of Physiology found that, “cold water immersion is no more effective than active recovery for minimizing inflammation and stress responses in the muscle.”

The Bottom Line

At the end of the day, it is up to the athlete to determine if they feel that ice baths are beneficial to their performance. If ice baths make an athlete feel good, then they may play better. There are a number of post-exercise activities that could potentially speed up recovery, and the best choice athletes can make, is to consult with their athletic trainer or sports doctor. Ice baths are being used by professionals around the world, so the Orlando women’s soccer experts think that they may be worth a try!