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Our last post was all about ice for injuries, you can check it out here. This week,  I wanted to take a look at the recent research regarding cold immersion. Cold Immersion is boasted to aid in recovery, increase immunity, and be the cure all for everything sports, but what does the research say? What kind of studies are around these large claims?Untitled design (2)

Does cold water immersion aid in workout recovery?

One interesting study by Peake et al, showed that despite anecdotal claims, cold immersion does not “significantly reduce inflammation or cellular stress with muscles after exercise”. This was in comparison to active recovery as low intensity cycling for 10 minutes after exercise, versus cold water immersion for 10 mins after exercise. Good points were made that it may have been better to compare it to rest, but as the authors refuted, it is unlikely to find sedentary athletes. They further concluded in a separate study that the regular use of cold immersion will decrease potential strength gains from exercise. It was not all negative outcomes however, the authors also referenced other studies showing some potential short term benefits when used periodically by athletes.

A second article found was a metanalysis. This looked at cold water immersion, contrast hydrotherapy and the comparison to other common modalities such as stretching, compression, or active recovery. In essence, it found that in comparison to nothing, contrast hydrotherapy was effective at aiding in recovery, however, when compared to other modalities, it faired more or less the same. Concerns about study sizes were an issue and it was concluded that high quality research is lacking to provide conclusive evidence. Other research and studies I came across presented similar information and were either flawed in design or too small of a sample size to present as a valid conclusion.

So, what does this mean for athletes looking at cold water immersion and recovery? Essentially it may be better than nothing, but probably is not a magic bullet. It can be utilized as part of a recovery method, but take into consideration your personal performance under the use of this method.

Does cold water immersion prevent illness???

Cold water immersion has also been boasted to promote immunity with use. The use of cold showers is definitely a growing trend. There is limited research in this area unfortunately, but one study suggested that regular old water immersion (3x per week) for 6 weeks did provide an activation of the immune system. There was not enough research in this area to provide implications for this information.

Discussing Cold water immersion without at least mentioning the Ice Man (Wim Hof) would be lacking. For those that are unfamiliar, Wim Hof is a Dutchman who holds world records for cold water immersion length and can be seen on the internet wandering around on mountains in shorts. The research I came across regarding him and cold water immersion was inclusive of his breathing method and while interesting is not included here.

In conclusion, the use of cold water immersion may have it’s use in both recovery and immunity but further research is needed to provide details. It is also notable that similar results are found in regards to contrast which is often considered more comfortable. Start hot and end cold! Developing a personalized recovery routine will likely have some personal preference and trial and error. To learn more about recovery methods subscribe and check back soon!



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