Can an ice bath really stave off the muscle soreness that can kick in a day or two after an intense workout? Yes, but maybe it's not worth the misery, experts report in a new review.
Elite athletes have been known to plunge themselves into icy baths for about five to seven minutes after vigorous workouts, and some fitness buffs have been following suit. But University of Ulster researchers in Northern Ireland say that while ice baths reduce muscle soreness by about 20 percent, other techniques, such as massage, compression stockings, or even taking a couple of ibuprofen, may be just as effective.
"We only found an effect in favor of cold water immersion when it was compared to doing nothing -- that is, passive rest after exercise," researcher Chris Bleakley told WebMD. He adds that research on the safety of the technique is also lacking. The report was published last week in the journal The Cochrane Library.
After trying a new exercise or ramping up the intensity of your routine, delayed onset muscule soreness, known as DOMS, usually peaks between 24 and 48 hours later. Expect stiffness, swelling, reduced strength and soreness, which WebMD cites is likely due to mechanical damage that occurs in the muscle fibers.
Another technique you can try to reduce pain and inflammation is RICE: rest, ice (as in, localized ice packs), compression, and elevation, say experts.
The British Journal of Sports Medicine recently published an analysis of recent studies and found that stretching, however, doesn't do much to prevent or reduce muscle soreness.