Study: Ice baths don't ease soreness or improve strength -
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Study: Ice baths don't ease soreness or improve strength

Christy Nielsen swears by ice baths.

The longtime marathoner and Olympic-qualifying runner loves getting into a bath full of cold water and ice after a hard workout.

"I think they are amazing," said Nielsen, a physical therapist at Nebraska Orthopaedic Hospital in Omaha. "Just as we use ice in therapy to decrease inflammation, athletes use ice baths to decrease inflammation following long or hard workouts."

At Creighton University, several student athletes take ice baths regularly for sprains and strains and to help with soreness, said head athletic trainer Ben McNair.

However, research from the University of New Hampshire recently published in the European Journal of Applied Physiology shows that the treatment may not be effective at all.

The study was conducted between 2010 and 2011 with 20 active, college-aged men. Each subject ran for 40 minutes on a treadmill. Half were then subjected to a 20-minute ice bath at a temperature of 5-degrees Celsius. The other half was not.

Researchers then measured the subjects' soreness, strength, thigh circumference and inflammation. They found no difference in strength or perceived soreness between the subjects who took ice baths and the control group. Thigh circumference did not change significantly for any of the subjects after the run.

"Ice baths are very popular as a treatment, but the research is really mixed as to whether they're beneficial," said the study's lead researcher, Naomi Crystal.

Regardless of the study, Nielsen said ice baths make her feel better and help her recover faster.

"The quicker you heal, the quicker you get stronger and can push through another workout," she said. "There will be debate on this just like there is in other areas of sports. I have so many high-level endurance athlete friends who feel the benefits of ice baths as well that I can't ignore our results."

For more information on the study, click here.

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