Skip to content
My WebMD Sign In, Sign Up

Fitness & Exercise

Font Size

Ice Baths for Sore Muscles Can Work

Review Finds Method Effective, but Safety Evidence Lacking
By
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Feb. 14, 2012 -- Can an ice bath really ward off the muscle soreness that can kick in a day or so after an intense workout?

According to a new review, it is better than doing nothing and equal to other remedies such as compression stockings or stretching.

Ice baths are favored by some elite athletes and have become a habit of other exercisers as well.

"We only found an effect in favor of cold water immersion when it was compared to doing nothing -- that is, passive rest after exercise," says Chris Bleakley, PhD, a researcher at the University of Ulster in Northern Ireland.

The ice bath reduced muscle soreness by about 20%, he says.

"There were no differences when cold water immersion was compared to other popular recovery interventions," he says. So the best active treatment is still unclear, he tells WebMD.

The review is published in The Cochrane Library.

Research on the safety of the method is lacking, Bleakley also found.

Those who shudder at the thought of an ice cube-filled bathtub will probably like one U.S.-based expert's take on the new findings.  An ice bath ''does not seem to be any more effective for most people than taking a couple of ibuprofen," says Gary A. Sforzo, PhD, a professor of exercise and sport sciences at Ithaca College, who reviewed the findings for WebMD. "So why go through this torture?"

Ice Baths After Hard Workouts

The soreness that can occur after unaccustomed exercise or a stepped-up workout is known as delayed onset muscle soreness, or DOMS. It usually peaks between 24 and 48 hours later.

It involves muscle stiffness, swelling, declines in strength, and localized muscle soreness.

Experts think it's due to mechanical damage that occurs to the muscle fibers. That can lead to inflammation and pain.

To combat the soreness, athletes take the ice baths in spas, large containers, or the home bathtub.

Typically the water temperature is less than 59 degrees Fahrenheit. People sit in the ice baths for five minutes or longer.

Ice Baths: The Review

Bleakley and his colleagues searched the medical literature to find studies of cold-water immersion to relieve DOMS. They found 17 small studies scientific enough to review. The studies included 366 people.

On average the people studied were 16 to 29.

The temperature of the ice baths varied among studies, usually about 50 to 59 degrees. People sat in the baths for five to 24 minutes. They usually were immersed up to the waist.

The ice baths were typically taken within 20 minutes of finishing the workout. In some studies, people took more than one ice bath after a workout.

Fourteen studies compared ice baths with rest or no treatment. Some studies compared ice baths to warm baths, warm-cold alternating baths, light jogging, and compression stockings. The researchers found no differences in relief between these remedies.

Many of the studies did not look at complications.

Healthy Living Tools

Ditch Those Inches

Set goals, tally calorie intake, track workouts and more, all via WebMD’s free Food & Fitness Planner.

Get Started

Today on WebMD

Wet feet on shower floor tile
Slideshow
Flat Abs
Slideshow
 
Build a Better Butt Slideshow
Slideshow
woman using ice pack
Quiz
 

man exercising
Article
7 most effective exercises
Interactive
 
Man looking at watch before workout
Slideshow
Overweight man sitting on park bench
Video
 
6-Week Challenges
Want to know more?
Chill Out and Charge Up Challenge – How to help your tribe de-stress and energize.
Spark Change Challenge - Ready for a healthy change? Get some major motivation.
I have read and agreed to WebMD's Privacy Policy.
Enter cell phone number
- -
Entering your cell phone number and pressing submit indicates you agree to receive text messages from WebMD related to this challenge. WebMD is utilizing a 3rd party vendor, CellTrust, to provide the messages. You can opt out at any time.
Standard text rates apply

pilates instructor
Slideshow
jogger running among flowering plants
Video
 
woman walking
Article
Taylor Lautner
Article