Put Down That Ice! Icing May Actually Impede Recovery

Everyone always tells you to ice an injury. It is generally thought that topical cooling has positive effects. However, new evidence has been presented that suggests this just may not be true.

Athletes frequently utilize topical cooling, or icing, for injury recovery and for relieving aches and strains from training. It is generally thought that topical cooling has positive effects. However, new evidence has been presented that suggests this just may not be true. A recent study examined the influence of topical cooling on muscle damage and hemodynamic changes during recovery from eccentric exercise. (Hemodynamics studies the forces involved in blood circulation.) This study was conducted to determine whether topical cooling can improve recovery in eccentric contraction-induced muscle damage.1

The study consisted of eleven male college baseball players. Each participant performed an eccentric exercise protocol which included six sets of preacher curls at 85% of their one rep max. All subjects performed two bouts of eccentric preacher curls, or negative reps, on the preacher curl for both arms. Researchers assisted the participants’ arms back to the flexed position upon completion of each rep to ensure no concentric contractions occurred.2

The participants were randomly placed into either a topical cooling or sham groups which did not include ice. Five sessions of 15-minute cold pack application to the exercised muscle were conducted at completion of exercise, 3 hours, 24 hours, 48 hours, and 72 hours after eccentric exercise-induced muscle damage. Muscle hemodynamics, inflammatory signs, muscle damage markers, visual appearance, and muscle isometric strength were assessed before and after exercise.3

The data that resulted from the study suggested icing not only does not improve recovery from eccentric exercise-induced muscle damage, but it actually delays recovery. In this study, an immediate elevation of blood perfusion in the exercised muscle was evident after a period of icing. Indicators of muscle damage known as creatine kinase-MB isoform and myoglobin levels were shown to increase after application of the cold pack. Additionally, pain and fatigue actually elevated after the cooling treatment as well. Icing had very little to no impact on inflammatory symptoms. There were no results to indicate whether the muscle strength increased after cooling, which has been found in prior studies.4

Science proves yet once again that a common method considered beneficial can in fact potentially be detrimental. Although baseball players were used in this study, the results do not indicate whether recovery from muscle damage induced by pitching would be hampered by icing. Consequently, this opens the door for further investigations to determine correlations between icing and recovery in activities such as pitching, as well as needed studies on concentric movements.5

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