Are cold baths ‘too risky’ for use as muscle pain therapy?

It takes a brave person to jump into a freezing cold bath for five to 24 minutes after a training session, but there is method to the madness. Athletes do it to speed up the healing of tissue damage, reduce swelling and ease muscle pain. The question is: is it actually safe?

Researchers at the UK Cochrane Centre have conducted 17 small studies involving a total of 366 people, and have come to the conclusion that there are safer, more effective ways of easing muscle pain than taking cold baths.

A relaxing dip in a warm bath, or a spot of light jogging could do the job just as well, they advised. This is bad news for athletes who have been bravely submerging themselves in icy water all this time. The Welsh rugby team is famous for undergoing a similar treatment known as cryotherapy in Poland several times a year to boost fitness levels; but what if a nice warm soak in the Jacuzzi could have done the same job as 15 minutes in temperatures as low as -110c?

Lead researcher Dr Chris Bleakley said: “We found some evidence that immersing yourself in cold water after exercise can reduce muscle soreness, but only compared to resting or doing nothing.”

Submerging the body in cold water induces a certain amount of shock on the body. For people with undiagnosed heart defects or circulation problems, this could be fatal.

The temperature is not the only problem- some rugby clubs have a wheelie bin full of cold water that players will jump into one after the other – regardless of open and bleeding wounds.

There are many kinds of therapy available for sports injuries. To find out more, visit our Therapy Topics section.

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Written by Zoe Thomas

Written by Zoe Thomas

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