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Why sports stars love ice baths
Craig Smith
By Craig Smith
Notts CCC physiotherapist

Recovery has become a bit of a buzz word over the past few years.

Teams and physios are always looking for the best methods to help sport stars recover from their gruelling training sessions as quickly as possible.

Rugby teams and other sports stars use massage, stretching sessions, relaxation therapy, steam baths, yoga and swimming to help their players overcome stiffness.

Lee Childs
Tennis player Lee Childs feels the cold pain of the ice bath

But the recovery method which has become the choice (and curse) of the players is the ice bath.

You may ask why Jonny Wilkinson bothers jumping into an ice bath after a match when all he wants to do is rest with a few cool drinks and a massage.

The reason lies behind what the cold, icy water does for a sportsman after a hard day at the office.

To understand how the ice baths work though, we first need to understand what recovery is all about.

In simple terms, it's about helping the muscles, tendons, bones, nerves and all the different tissues used in sport recover from their workout.

Just like Michael Schumacher's car needs a complete overhaul with new parts and tyres after a Formula One race, the body needs to service itself and its parts for the next day, next race or next match.

You're body is pretty battered and bruised after a heavy game - it's the best way to recover from the aches and pains
Jonah Lomu on ice baths

The body does this with the help of the blood vessels that bring oxygen to the tissues and remove the waste products of exercise, the most common being lactic acid.

Too much lactic acid build up can cause the muscles to function poorly and over a long period of time feelings of fatigue, heavy legs and general tiredness can set in.

So how do ice baths help to boost the body's recovery processes and prevent injury?

When you get into an ice bath for five to 10 minutes, the icy cold water causes your blood vessels to tighten and drains the blood out of your legs. After 10 minutes your legs feel cold and numb.

So when Wilko gets out of the bath, his legs fill up with 'new' blood that invigorates his muscles with oxygen to help the cells function better.

At the same time, the more blood coming into Jonny's legs will have to leave as well, draining away and at the same time taking with it the lactic acid that has built up from his match.

Most of the players at major tournaments will be taking ice baths regularly after training sessions to help their muscles stay fresh and avoid injury.


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