How to Ice for Optimal Recovery

Opinions surrounding an endurance athlete's need to ice for recovery are many. Icing to aid in the recovery of an injury is one thing, but using ice as the prime treatment for overuse injuries is another issue.

For example, if you have shin splints, simply icing the shin splints to decrease the pain and immediate inflammation may ease the discomfort but does not "cure" anything.

More: 3 Steps to Long-Run Recovery

Using icing as a Band-Aid to push through uncomfortable overuse injuries is not recommended. However, icing in conjunction with rest can greatly increase healing time and athletic performance.

If there are no injuries present, icing specific muscles groups, engaging in ice baths, or trying contrast water therapy (moving from hot to cold water), can boost performance in some athletes. It is not a proven fact to be effective in all cases, but here is what we do know:

More: Do's and Don'ts for Icing Injuries

  • Exercise causes micro trauma (tiny tears in the muscles).
  • Icing or any kind of cold therapy stimulates the muscle cell activity, helps repair micro trauma, and aids in strengthening muscles.
  • Icing has been linked to delayed muscle pain and soreness.

Here's how it works:

A cold compress or cold bath causes blood vessels to constrict. When the area becomes warm again, blood rushes to flush out metabolic buildup quicker than it if it were pumped out normally. This is what causes a decrease in swelling and soreness.

More: Six Ways to Train for Recovery

If injury is not in the picture, icing the muscle groups that work the hardest will stimulate muscle activity and aid in the repair of overworked muscles. However, when it comes to injury, let your doctor prescribe icing for recovery.

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