Cryotherapy is an increasingly popular recovery strategy used to diminish the negative impact of strenuous physical activity on the body. A study was performed that aimed to assess the effects of whole body cryotherapy (WBC), cold water immersion (CWI), and a placebo on recovery following a marathon (26.2 mile run).
Thirty-one endurance-trained males completed a marathon. Participants were randomly assigned to a whole body cryotherapy (WBC), cold water immersion (CWI), or placebo group.
Whole Body Cryotherapy (WBC)
Immediately after cessation of exercise, the WBC participants were exposed to two cold treatments in a cryotherapy chamber. Participants spent a 3-minute session in the cryotherapy chamber set to – 85° C (± 5° C), followed by a 15-minute warming period in an ambient room, followed by a second 4-minute session in the chamber at − 85° C (± 5° C).
Cold Water Immersion (CWI)
Immediately after cessation of exercise, the CWI participants sat in a cryotherapy ice bath for 10 minutes, ensuring their lower limbs and iliac crest were fully immersed. The ice bath filled with water that was cooled to 8° C.
The placebo group was informed that they were taking a tart cherry juice supplement for 5 days before the run, the day of the run, and for 2 days after the run (8 days in total). Participants consumed 2 × 30 ml per day of a fruit flavoured drink, which did not contain any antioxidants or phytonutrients. Participants were asked to rest quietly for 10 minutes following completion of the run.
Perceptions of muscle soreness, training stress, and markers of muscle function were recorded before the marathon and at 24 and 48 hours post exercise. Blood samples were taken at baseline, directly post intervention (cryotherapy or placebo), and 24 and 48 hours post intervention to assess inflammation and muscle damage.
- When evaluated in terms of muscle function, whole body cryotherapy was less effective than CWI post marathon. But, both cryotherapy groups have worse outcome in comparison to the placebo.
- Whole body cryotherapy was beneficial for limiting stress response symptoms and muscle soreness in comparison to CWI and placebo.
- With the exception of C-reactive protein at 24 and 48 hours, neither cryotherapy intervention (neither WBC nor CWI) positively influenced blood borne markers of inflammation or structural damage compared to placebo.
The findings show WBC has a negative impact on muscle function, perceptions of soreness, and a number of blood parameters compared to CWI, contradicting the suggestion that WBC may be the superior recovery strategy of the two. Further, neither cryotherapy method was more effective than a placebo intervention at improving functional recovery or perceptions of training stress following a marathon. These findings lend further evidence to suggest that treatment belief and the placebo effect may be largely responsible for the beneficial effects of cryotherapy on recovery following a marathon.
Note: This blog post article was created in collaboration with www.terrarosa.com.au.