New research has cast doubt on the use of cryotherapy which is used by many soccer players, while the Irish rugby team is currently availing of it at one of the world’s leading centres in Spala, Poland.
The study, published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, said treatment at sub-zero temperatures can often do more harm than good.
The study examined the responses of Australian students to ice baths where some experienced more pain after ice-treatment.
The team said the use of ice-baths needed further investigation and was not universally beneficial.
“This study challenges the use of ice water immersion in athletes given that (after exercise) ice water immersion offers no benefit on pain, swelling, isometric strength and function and in fact may make athletes sorer the following day,” scientists said.
The Australian scientists said because of the physical demands of enduring freezing conditions the benefits might be all in an athlete’s head.
The physiotherapist at Ireland’s only cryotherapy clinic at White’s Hotel, Wexford, Rachel Maguire, said the research conflicted with the experience of its customers. She said ice-baths close to freezing point may have limited appeal but cryotherapy is different with a dry atmosphere and temperatures plunging 110 degrees below.
“It is a whole lot different to ice-baths in that it covers the whole body and it’s not just about an injured area, it also has affects for circulation and nervous system.
“Everybody gets something out of it but obviously some benefit more than others. There are still some people who are sceptical about it but we can see the affects of it every day and not just with sports people,” she said.
Both cryotherapy and ice baths are based on the theory that when the body experiences really cold temperatures the blood withdraws towards the heart.
This is supposed to stop swelling, prevent the body getting damaged and improve its ability to recover from injury.
Yesterday, the Irish Rugby Football Union said it had used cryrotherapy for six years since its fitness director Dr Liam Hennessy identified it as a key part of pre-season preparation.