Athletes go to great lengths in order to protect their muscles and to recover from exercise-induced muscle damage, but until now there has been little work to determine what methods are most effective.
A new study published in the online journal PLoS ONE reports that runners benefit more from whole-body cryotherapy, in which the study participants was exposed to temperatures as cold as-110°C, than from either exposure to far-infrared radiation or receiving no treatment at all.
The study, led by Christophe Hausswirth of the National Institute of Sport, Expertise and Performance in Paris, was conducted with nine well trained runners and each participant tested each recovery method to control for individual differences in muscle damage and recovery.
Overall, the researchers found the whole-body cryotherapy method to be most effective. The first cryotherapy session, conducted one hour after exercise, allowed the runners to recover maximal muscle strength, while the same result took much longer to attain with the other strategies, and three cryotherapy sessions performed over 48 hours post-run accelerated recovery more than the other two methods over the same time period.
According to Dr. Hausswirth, the “whole-body cryotherapy is effective in enhancing post-exercise recovery in well-trained runners, by limiting the maximal force loss and sensations of pain.”
The theory is that cold temperatures prevent the build-up of lactic acid in muscles and after treatment athletes emerge fresher and ready for the next training session.
Cryotherapy chambers have been used for a decade to reduce inflammation in patients with conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis and sports physiotherapists realised that the same principles could be used by elite athletes and it has been adapted to help sportsmen and women and to allow them to endure more punishing training schedules without the after-effects.
A few minutes in the chamber accelerates the process by which the body recovers from the stress of hard training.
The Welsh Rugby Union team used the treatment in Poland as part of their preparations for the recent World Cup in which they reached the semi final stage for only the second time in the team’s history.