Put Down That Ice Pack: Science Casts Doubts on Icing

The sacred cow of injury recovery has been slain: icing is no longer good for you. It might even be bad for you. At best it might do nothing for you. Read all the new research to decide for yourself.

It hasn’t been a good year for icing. The research on whether it improves recovery and performance has always been inconclusive. Now more than ever, scientists are motivated to figure out how and why it may work, but they’re still not finding much concrete evidence either way.

A recent study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research examined Division I collegiate soccer players. The study put them through sprints and measured vertical jump. Then half of them received a 15-minute ice bath in 54°F water. The other half sat quietly for 15 minutes, which probably wasn’t a hard sell after running 20-meter sprints to exhaustion. After 24 and 48 hours all participants performed the sprints and vertical jump again.

The findings? Those who received an ice bath did not perform significantly better than those who sat quietly and browsed Facebook on their phones for 15 minutes. To be fair, the ice bath group did perform a tiny bit better, but the difference was statistically insignificant, so we can’t be sure it’s because of the ice bath. Turf conditions or an unruly meal at a Mexican restaurant the night before could just as easily have been the culprit.

This comes just one month on the heels of another study showing that applying ice to fatigued muscles didn’t improve recovery. Nay – it delayed recovery. In fact, participants in the group that iced their muscles reported feeling more fatigued than the non-icing group at 72 hours after exercise.

Last month Kelly Starrett took on icing in this article. He makes a compelling argument, concluding that icing can indeed reduce pain, but it does not improve recovery.

But icing is sacred. Most of us in the strength and conditioning community were taught that icing an injured or seriously fatigued muscle is required if you are serious about training. This new research flies in the face of coach, grandma, conventional wisdom, and probably even Jesus. A world without icing may be difficult to accept.

What do you think? Have we heard the last of icing, or is it somehow therapeutic in a way that these studies have failed to show?

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

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