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Ice Baths/Packs vs Cryotherapy

After a bout of exercise or a competitive event the body, within two days, can develop what is called DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness). This is tiny, microscopic damage to the muscle but is perfectly normal and how muscles heal and then become stronger and bigger. This can be caused by starting a whole new exercise programme, a change to your routine or an increase to the duration or intensity of your workout. It can come into effect within six hours of a workout but usually peaks at 48 hours. One method previously used for dealing with DOMS in elite level sport has been to use ice baths or ice packs.

With more money and increases in revenue involved in sport, the new technology that is available is the use of cryotherapy chambers. The chambers work by using nitrogen gas at an ultra-low temperature of less than -100 degrees celsius and users can spend up to 2-3 minutes in the chamber. The thought is that the super cold environment can speed up the muscle recovery process. Questions regarding the success rate of the new technology and is it because it is expensive does it have as much effect as an ice bath or cold water immersion. Is the benefit of using a cryotherapy chamber psychological rather than physical ?

Research has shown that recovery rates were actually quicker through using an ice bath rather than a cryochamber. Also soreness levels were less after using cold water immersion rather than the new technology. One thing that the cryotherapy chamber seemed to increase was levels of testosterone amongst males.

Theories regarding why the cold water appears to quicken recovery may be because there are greater reductions in blood flow and tissue temperature when the body was subjected to an ice bath in comparison to the chamber. This may be due to the chamber uses air to cool the body and as a material air does not transfer temperature as well as water can meaning the cold water immersion can cool the core body temperature down to a lower level than the chamber can.

Technology is incredible and has given so many advances in medical procedures and therapies but this may show that sometimes the cheaper old fashion way of recovery should not be forgotten.

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