Do ice baths aid recovery after sport in amateur athletes?

Ice baths, or cold-water immersion, are a popular recovery method among both professional and amateur athletes.

The idea behind ice baths is that immersing the body in cold water reduces inflammation, muscle soreness, and accelerates recovery by constricting blood vessels and reducing metabolic activity.

But do they really work, especially for amateur athletes?

Benefits of ice baths

  1. Reduced inflammation: Cold temperatures can constrict blood vessels and decrease metabolic activity, which may help reduce swelling and tissue breakdown.
  2. Pain relief: The numbing effect of cold water can temporarily relieve pain, making athletes feel better post-exercise.
  3. Mental boost: Many athletes report a psychological benefit from ice baths, feeling rejuvenated and mentally refreshed.

The evidence

Research on ice baths provides mixed results. Some studies suggest benefits in reducing delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) and improving recovery times, while others show no significant advantage over other methods.

A 2017 review in the International Journal of Sports Medicine concluded that while cold-water immersion might reduce muscle soreness, its impact on overall recovery is less clear.

While also in 2017 the Journal of Physiology it was reported that there was a lack of justification for cold water immersion during ‘pre-season’ or the preparation phase.

Ultimately an individualised approach to recovery was recommended.

Better recovery methods

While ice baths have their place, other recovery methods may offer more comprehensive benefits for amateur athletes:

  1. Active recovery: Engaging in low-intensity exercise, such as walking or cycling, helps maintain blood flow and aids in the removal of metabolic waste products from muscles.
  2. Proper nutrition: Consuming a balanced meal rich in proteins and carbohydrates within 30 minutes post-exercise can aid muscle repair and replenish glycogen stores.
  3. Hydration: Ensuring adequate fluid intake before, during, and after exercise helps maintain performance and accelerates recovery.
  4. Sleep: Quality sleep is crucial for recovery, as it is the time when the body repairs and regenerates tissues. Aim for 7-9 hours per night.
  5. Massage: Massage therapy can improve circulation, reduce muscle tension, and promote relaxation, aiding in overall recovery.
  6. Stretching: Help maintain flexibility, reduce muscle stiffness, and improve blood flow to the muscles.


For amateur athletes, ice baths can be a helpful tool for reducing muscle soreness and providing psychological benefits.

However, they should not be relied upon as the sole recovery method. Incorporating a combination of active recovery, proper nutrition, hydration, adequate sleep, massage, and stretching will likely yield better results.

Tailoring recovery strategies to individual needs and preferences is essential for optimising performance and preventing injuries.