Why do athletes take ice baths?

The benefits of ice baths have become more ambiguous since first introduced. At its primary level, it’s pretty self-evident. Cold things will help reduce swelling and possibly inflammation. It desensitizes us to a certain feeling of pain and soreness from repetitive or intense exercise.

However, for athletes looking to increase adaptation/strength, inflammation is actually helpful for muscle repair. In a study conducted where people did a 3 month strength training course, the participants that used an ice bath (over gradual cool down) for repair noted reduced swelling and overall soreness but also made smaller gain in muscle mass.

Overall, for athletes at their prime, ice baths may be useful for quick recovery between events (i.e. back to back games) but probably not if they want to get stronger long term.

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