Since I have been dealing with some minor injuries lately, one my friends suggested that I take ice baths after my runs. She specifically mentioned it as being beneficial in terms of my plantar fasciitis. I have heard of ice baths, but had not followed through up to this point… mostly because I have not had any significant injuries. With the luck that I have had lately, however, it sounded like a good idea.
As I was taking my very first plunge, I began to wonder: “Is it worth it?”. I resolved then and there to search for the scientific foundation of this method of treating injuries. Here is what I found in therms of benefits and recommendations:
Many elite runners and not-so-elite running enthusiasts that consider ice baths to be beneficial based on their own experience. They claim that it leads to a quicker recovery and less pain. So how does it accomplish this? After about 6 minutes in the icy water, your blood rushes to the area to rescue you from the cold. This rush is what helps to flush out the metabolic debris that might otherwise take days to flush out. In the meanwhile, the cold is reducing the inflammation in the area. This combination makes ice cold baths after a big workout a hot idea!
While the current research does not tell us what protocol is ideal for ice baths, we do know a few things. The most important thing to remember is that ice baths of over 20 minutes can be detrimental. You body will actually begin to break down after 20 minutes in ice cold water. Most experts suggest that runners submerge their legs for 6-10 minutes, just long enough to feel the blood rush in to save the day.
One study found that ice baths after 90 minutes of exercise actually hindered the refueling process. This is really only an issue if you plan back-to-back days with long runs, which is not a good idea anyway.
From my experience, the recommendations of friends, and the scientific evidence, I would conclude that it is a good idea. I will continue the ice baths as I recover from runs over 90 minutes.
What experiences have you had with ice baths?
“Train hard, race easy, & enjoy the run!” — P. Mark Taylor
Check out these books by P. Mark Taylor for more advice on running: