Cooling the body

Rugby and exercise in general are inflammatory and muscle damage provoking activities. Cooling the body is one way of limiting the inflammatory response to muscle damage and thus possibly promoting decreased recovery time (Harrington 2016).

Ice baths or cold water immersion is a popular way of cooling the body after exercise in an attempt to enhance recovery. The theory is that the cold water will cause blood vessels to constrict thus reducing blood flow to the damaged muscles and limiting the inflammatory response. There is also the thought that the pressure of the water will help limit swelling which is another natural response to muscle damage (Harrington 2016). The research surrounding ice baths and cold water immersion is not conclusive with some finding improved recovery and others finding little or no effect on recovery (Elias 2014). Even though the research is not conclusive, this treatment is not likely to cause further damage to the player and the benefit of a possible placebo effect cannot be overlooked. Players often report feeling better after such cold water immersion and a positive mindset is important for effective recovery. Some guidelines for cold water immersion include:

  • Players should try to have a total immersion time of at least 10 or more minutes as this appears to enhance the effectiveness with 14-15 minutes being the current recommendation
  • A temperature of between 10-15°C appears to be the most effective range for cold water immersion (Elias 2014).