The Pros and Cons of “The Ice Bath”

Article by Dr. Bill Cragg, D.C. – Founder/Chief Practitioner of St. Louis Injury & Rehabilitation Center

We’ve all considered it but many of us have had the “intestinal fortitude” to plunge ourselves into icy waters. Many elite athletes use the “ice bath” as part of their recovery. But, is there actually a legitimate benefit (medical benefit) in the practice?

In reviewing literature you may find “pros and cons” but much of the research out there has difficulty defending the scientific benefits. Put aside the “scientific research” for just a minute (there is a split down the middle anyway) and consider this view point. Look at what the professionals do. Isn’t this what we do for much of our athletic careers anyway? Whether it’s our shoes, clothes, training schedules or nutrition, we always look to the PROS for advice and wonder what works for them.

So, what do the PROS do? Look into the backrooms of all professional athletic training and workout rooms and you will see a “cryotank or tub”. Look at some of the most elite athletes (professional cyclists, elite marathoners and triathletes) and within their recovery plan is ice bath recovery.

The benefits of plunging into 48-52 degrees Fahrenheit include some of the following:

  • Constrict blood vessels and flush waste products, like lactic acid, out of the affected tissues
  • Decrease metabolic activity and slow down physiological process
  • Reduce swelling and tissue breakdown

When you take everything into consideration and wish to take the plunge, it really comes down to one thing, what is going to work for you? Each of us needs to consider this practice like we do our nutrition, our equipment and training plans. Try it and see what the results are for you. That is the best personal research.

So, after your next long run, head home, grab some ice from the local store and climb on in. Time frames and temperatures vary but take at least 10 minutes at 54-60 degrees for your first time. Your own personal experience will determine the benefits. Ask yourself, how it feels following training, later in the day or the next day.

Article Citation

Brendon P. McDermott, Douglas J. Casa, Matthew S. Ganio, Rebecca M. Lopez, Susan W. Yeargin, Lawrence E. Armstrong and Carl M. Maresh (2009) Acute Whole-Body Cooling for Exercise-Induced Hyperthermia: A Systematic Review. Journal of Athletic Training: Jan/Feb 2009, Vol. 44, No. 1, pp. 84-93.

5 Responses to “The Pros and Cons of “The Ice Bath””

  1. Logan

    Non related to ice baths… I have two spots that I bought for a chairity golf tournament tomorrow. 11am at Pecan Grove. Free golf!!! Weather should be perfect for a sick day. If you can play call me or text me at 713-557-9278.
    “Charity” is Texas Sliders Baseball team.

  2. Speedy J

    I knew there was a reason why my husband always insisted I get in an ice bath…always took the warm route..a true wimp when it comes to this.

  3. G

    @Speedy J, Polar Bear Club is this coming Friday night again.
    @Famelicous- mountain girl, I still remember at our beach house back in the islands when we would boil water and mix it in the tub with the cold water in the morning. But later in the day the water was very warm – haha!

  4. Andrea / aka Genie

    Its funny how you posted this today. Sade’ came home after track practice and wanted to sit in an ice bath. I was like “are you serious?” But my Husband said that one day she will really want to try it so we stocked on ice in the freezer for this day. Today her practice consisted of warm up drills, 500m, 400m, 300m, 200, 100, (what we call the 5 4 3 2 1), then 600m, 300m, 600m, 15 min break, then another 600m, 300m, 600m. Sade’ said that she felt so good after the ice bath. So for her its 2 thumbs up!!!