Many athletes put in a lot of work during practice, training sessions or workout routines in order to get better at their craft, but one area that is often overlooked when it comes to improving your athletic performance is your recovery period. Your body needs help recovering after you’ve pushed yourself physically, and you have more control over this recovery than you may realize. One way that you can help your body recover after physical therapy is through cold therapy.
You’ve probably seen cold therapy depicted on television where an athlete jumps in an ice bath after the big game, and while ice baths are a form of cold therapy, there are less extreme ways to harness the power of ice to your advantage. In today’s blog, we talk more about the benefits of cold therapy and share some do’s and don’ts if you want to pursue cold therapy after athletic activity.
How Does Cold Therapy Help After Athletics?
Cold therapy can help athletes recover in a number of different ways. For starters, cold therapy helps to reduce inflammation and swelling. Your body is physically stressed during athletic performance, and swelling/inflammation is your body’s natural response to this stress. Inflammation and swelling help to protect an area, but it can also serve to slow recovery because of fluid buildup in the area. Cold therapy constricts blood vessels, making it harder for swelling to develop in recently stressed joints.
Cold therapy also helps to numb discomfort. Exposing your body to cold temperatures may be uncomfortable at the outset, but eventually discomfort will fade. Cold therapy can provide a natural analgesic effect to sore joints and muscles.
Finally, cold therapy is also beneficial on the cellular level. Cold compression therapy slows down your circulation, which can actually be helpful to the muscle and tissue repair process. When it comes to cellular metabolism, enzymes and proteins within cells are constantly being built, degraded and rebuilt. Cold therapy slows down this process, giving fresh enzymes and oxygenated blood more time to work within the damaged tissue, giving it a higher chance of healing properly before the cycle continues.
Cold Therapy – What To Do And What To Avoid
If you want to help your body feel less discomfort and recover sooner after athletic stress, consider icing uncomfortable joints or muscles after activity. When it comes to safe cold therapy, there are some things you’ll want to do and some things you’ll want to avoid:
- Do Start With Short Sessions – It’s going to take a little while to get used to how cold therapy affects your body. Start by icing for 5-10 minutes, then give your body a break. Pursue longer sessions or an increased amount of sessions throughout the day as your body gets used to cold therapy.
- Don’t Apply Directly To The Skin – Always be sure to wrap ice bags or ice packs in a light cloth or towel so that it is not directly applied to your skin. Prolonged exposure to direct contact can lead to tissue damage and tissue death.
- Do Focus On Your Breathing – If you are taking a cold shower or jumping in an ice bath, it can be a shock to your whole system. Focus on your breathing while you’re exposed to cold temperatures, and it will help you stay relaxed throughout the process.
- Don’t Assume More Is Better – Don’t just leave an ice bag on your arm for two hours after a baseball game. Ice for a short period of time, then remove the bag and do some gentle movements and stretches.
- Do Take Note Of How You Feel – Take stock of yourself after you are done icing. How do you feel 10 minutes, 10 hours or two days after cold therapy? Do you feel like it’s helping your muscles and joints? Tweak your program as necessary for best results.
- Don’t Take A Hot Shower Afterwards – Exposing your body to polar ends of the heat spectrum can be hard on it. Instead, it’s usually recommended to let your body warm up naturally after cold therapy. Go out in the sun, put on a warm sweater or curl up with a blanket for a few minutes to help your body naturally warm up after cold therapy.
If you’re really interested in taking your athletic recovery to the next level, connect with the professional rehabilitation team at OrthoRehab Specialists. For more information, give our team a call today at (612) 339-2041.