Saturday, April 25, 2009

Ice, Ice, Baby

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. The blogger "FrayedLaces" has created a great video clip of her post long run routine which includes how to do an ice bath. Check it out below.

10 comments:

TRI-james said...

I just got out of the tub - the best thing for the legs!

RunnerDude said...

Hey TRI-james! Awesome! Hope you had a good run and the legs are feeling great now!

Dena said...

I've taken 2 ice baths in my life. The first time, I started screaming as I lowered myself into the water. My husband came running, thinking something terrible had happened--which, technically, is not far from the truth.

2nd bath, I filled with cold water, got in, THEN added ice. Much better. Also was in a sweatshirt and sipping a mug of hot tea. Much more pleasant experience.

But I still love my hot showers after a run! And of course, ass peas are a great go-to cure all. ;)

RunnerDude said...

Hey Dena! Pouring the ice in after you get in is a great idea! I'll have to try that. And what did you put in your tea after you poured it. Lol! Thanks!

Jeff said...

I don't get this thing about icing. I was under the impression that inflammation is the body's response to injury and so was a good thing, within reason. Sure, if you have a major injury you will need to reduce the swelling, but it seems to me that icing after a normal workout would retard healing, not promote it. This reminds me of the old idea that fevers are bad and must be reduced ASAP. It turns out that fever helps kill the infectious agent by cooking it, and so is not a bad thing, as long as it is not extreme enough to threaten the host.

RunnerDude said...

Hey Jeff! Good points. I think in my posting I mention using the ice after an intense workout or long run. FrayedLaces also mentions that in the video. From what I've read from Joe Ellis, D.P.M. and Runner's World adviser, the ice initially decreases the blood flow (you'll see your legs turn white, but after a few minutes the body realizes it has enough warmth and you're legs aren't going to freeze, so the body increase blood flow. He says that this brings in "much-needed nutrients while flushing out the waste products of the injury (your skins begins to turn red when this happens). I agree with you though in that this isn't something you do after every long run or workout. Thanks!

Frayed Laces said...

Haha thanks for the shoutout!

RunnerDude said...

Hey FrayedLaces! You have such a great blog and your video clips are awesome, I wanted the RunnerDude's readers to know about you. Hope you don't mind. Thanks!!

Nick said...

I for one love ice baths and could easily sit in one for 30 or more minutes.

I cannot live without ice in my bottles either when out on a hot run or ride. So, ice cures the drinking issue for me as well.

RunnerDude said...

Hey Nick! Glad it's working for ya! You're dead-on with the cold water. It's absorbed faster by your body than water at room temperature or at body temperature. The American College of Sports Medicine recommends that water and other drinks be chilled when used for exercise.