WEDNESDAY, Aug. 21, 2013 (HealthDay News) -- Taking an ice bath after a workout does not reduce soreness or strength loss, according to a new study.
"It doesn't help you feel better and it doesn't help you perform better," lead researcher Naomi Crystal said in a University of New Hampshire news release.
"Ice baths are very popular as a treatment, but the research is really mixed as to whether they're beneficial. They're miserable. If it doesn't work, you don't want to waste your time," she noted.
The study included 20 recreationally active college-aged men who ran for 40 minutes. Half of them then took a 20-minute ice bath in thigh-high ice water that was 40 degrees Fahrenheit.
"That's really cold," Crystal said. "I had some guys close to tears."
The participants underwent follow-up tests to measure their soreness while walking down stairs, their quadriceps strength, their thigh circumference, and levels of an inflammation marker in their blood.
There were no differences in strength or soreness between the men who took ice baths and those who did not. Thigh circumference did not change significantly for any of the participants.
The men who took ice baths did show a possible mild reduction in inflammation, but the findings were not conclusive, according to the study published online recently in the European Journal of Applied Physiology.
Despite the findings, Crystal isn't convinced that ice baths do not help at all.
"Use them sparingly. Use them in tournament situations, use them with an athlete who has done something extraordinary. But for day-to-day athletes, I wouldn't recommend them. They're painful, and they're time consuming," she said.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention outlines the benefits of physical activity.