It's amazing how something so basic can be such an amazing cure-all. I'm talking about ice. Even with all the anti-inflammatory creams and oral medications on the market, ice remains one of, if not the most, effective anti-inflammatory treatments for sports related injuries as well as to impede recovery from intense workouts.
The first thing many runners want to do after a long intense run is to hop in a hot shower or a warm tub, especially in the winter. But, that's actually the worst thing a runner can do. Although it may feel really good to slip those worn out legs and tired little toes into a warm bath, what actually happens may make things worse and slow down your recovery. The hot water actually increases the blood flow increasing swelling worsening the inflammation. Ice does the exact opposite. The coldness helps to decrease the blood flow, decreasing the chances of swelling. That's why when you sprain your ankle you put an ice pack on it—to keep the swelling down.
Runners can benefit from applying the same basic principle after an intense workout or long run. An ice pack can be applied to a specific area or you can take an ice bath. You don't need a fancy store-bought ice pack. In fact, a zippered plastic baggie filled with ice or even a bag of frozen peas works much better because it will conform better to the area. Frozen peas work well because the individually frozen peas stay cold longer and there's not as much condensation on the outside of the bag like you get with the ice cubes in the zippered bag. I'm actually sitting on a bag of frozen lima beans as I write this (I'm out of peas). I did a long run this morning and my lower glutes are feeling it. Apply the ice for about 15 to 20 minutes. If at all possible, it's best to apply the ice pack immediately after the workout.
Ice baths are great for decreasing inflammation in both legs at once. This is very effective after an intense speed workout or after a hard long run. It's the same basic premise as the ice pack, just on a grander scale. Fill a tub with enough water to so that when you sit in the tub your legs will be covered when sitting flat, legs outstretched. Then add an ample amount of ice. Next, sit in the tub and slowly stretch your legs out in front of you until they are fully submerged. Be prepared. It's COLD!! 10-15 minutes max is all you need.
Below my contribution to the July 2010 Runner's World "Ask the Experts" feature on using Ice Baths. Check it out!