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The Effectiveness of Icing

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There seems to be a lot of discussion surrounding the practice of icing after exercise these days.   The procedure of icing after workouts has been around for decades, but we are now starting to read statements suggesting it may be the end of the ice age. It seems like some of the very same people who advocated icing for years are now shunning it. “Stop icing” is the battle cry of some popular bloggers.

Why? What has changed in the human body that now makes icing bad? Or what have we learned recently that should cause us to change our mind? In an effort to seek unbiased answers to these questions, we turned to the scientific community.

We used as sources for our information peer reviewed journals that rely on experimental data and scientific methods to draw conclusions, as opposed to articles that merely advocate somebody’s logic or opinion. These are scholarly articles whose authors either performed original testing as part of their research or they reviewed existing studies to ascertain the overall effectiveness of cryotherapy.   A link to the bibliography of references is included at the end of this article. You can find these and other articles online by using an appropriate search site such as PubMed.

The use of ice on traumatic injuries is still in practice at every medical center in the world. The effectiveness of ice on these types of injuries is not questioned and not the topic of concern here. It is the use of ice after workouts to aid in recovery that is being questioned. Accordingly, we limited our research to the use of ice as an aid in recovery after exercise induced muscle damage.

The effects of multiple daily applications of ice to the hamstrings on biochemical measures, signs, and symptoms associated with exercise-induced muscle damage.”   This is the title of one such article we found, published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. In it, the authors, a team out of Andrews University, measured the effects of ice on exercise recovery – very appropriate.   They used an icing protocol common to athletes and took data for 72 hours following the workout. Their results? “The cryotherapy group had significantly less pain compared with the control at 48 hours.”

Here’s another article we read. “Stretching versus transitory icing: which is the more effective treatment for attenuating muscle fatigue after repeated manual labor?” This study was published in the European Journal of Applied Physiology by a team in Japan.   In it, they compared stretching to icing on the recovery time of athletes subjected to intense exercise induced muscle damage. By measuring the electrical activity of the muscles along with muscle oxygen levels during the recovery phase, they were able to see the impact of these procedures on muscles. Their results supported the use of ice. “Icing may more effectively induce recovery and thus may be a better choice between the two treatment techniques.”

The Journal of Athletic Training published this study:” Does Cryotherapy Improve Outcomes With Soft Tissue Injury?” This is actually a study of many studies on cryotherapy. The authors, from Pennsylvania State University, created search criteria to locate studies that met their needs. A total of 55 articles were reviewed. While they spent a good deal of effort evaluating the testing procedures themselves, their final conclusion was “Based on the available evidence, cryotherapy seems to be effective in decreasing pain.”

There are many other articles we could refer to ad-nauseam but you would stop reading. If you are interested, our advice is to do your own search. Go to PubMed and search on terms like “ice therapy” and “cryotherapy” with respect to exercise and recovery.   You will be overwhelmed by the amount of research done.

We found that for the span of several decades, all around the globe, teams of doctors, scientists and others have studied the effects of icing on recovery with every tool available. Indeed, the quantity of data that exist on icing is quite formidable. For anyone to state that there is no conclusive evidence regarding icing is tantamount to burying one’s head in the sand.

While exercise programs may come and go, the human body remains the same. The way it works today is the same as it has for a long, long time.

For more information on the results of icing, please visit our bibliography at