Cold water immersion remains one of the most popular recovery modalities used by sports teams to reduce soreness and facilitate restored performance after intense training. Though the benefits of cold water immersion remain debatable, one consensus that has been reached is that it typically enhances perceived recovery and reduces self-reported muscle soreness. Water temperature and duration of immersion are variables that are usually not sufficiently considered by coaches. In many circumstances, water temperature is not monitored or controlled. This is particularly common among high school and amateur sports programs who simply fill a tub with water and ice and let the athletes have at it. It turns out however that water temperature may play an important role on the effects that cold water immersion has on recovery.
A new study published ahead of print in the International Journal of Sports Medicine evaluated the effects of cold water immersion with two different water temperatures (5 and 15° Celsius) on recovery markers from exercise-induced muscle damage. A total of 42 male college students performed 5 sets of 20 drop jumps to induce muscle damage and were then randomly allocated to one of three interventions: 1) 20 minutes of lower limb cold water immersion in 5° Celsius water; 2) 20 minutes of lower limb cold water immersion in 15° Celsius water; 3) or control (passive rest). Isometric quadriceps torque, countermovement jump, muscle soreness and creatine kinase (a marker of muscle damage) were measured before, immediately post-training intervention and again at 24, 48, 72, 96 and 168 hours post.
The results showed that recovery of isometric strength did not differ between groups. On the other hand, countermovement jump values showed a quicker return to baseline in the immersion groups compared with control. Specifically, countermovement jump recovered to baseline levels after 72 hours for the 15° condition and after 96 hours for the 5° condition. Subjects in the control group did not recover to baseline within the allotted time. Creatine kinase returned to baseline at the 72-hour point for the 15° condition while it remained elevated throughout the entire study duration for 5° and control conditions. Perceived muscle soreness was meaningfully improved 24-hours post-exercise for the 15° condition compared with control. The authors conclude that cold water immersion facilitates recovery of stretch-shortening cycle performance but not maximal contractile force. Additionally, cold water immersion with warmer temperatures (i.e., 15°) appears more effective than colder temperatures.
Vieira, A., Siqueira, A. F., Ferreira-Junior, J. B., do Carmo, J., Durigan, J. L. Q., Blazevich, A., & Bottaro, M. (2016). The Effect of Water Temperature during Cold-Water Immersion on Recovery from Exercise-Induced Muscle Damage. International Journal of Sports Medicine. In Press.