There has been a lot of opinions on Compression & cold water immersion as means of recovery, taking into account recent research on Compression Garments and Cold Water Immersion which I will cover in this article.
Compression garments are advertised extensively now and many runners have asked whether they are worth using.
The British Journal of Sports Medicine recently published a systematic review and meta analysis of the literature studying compression wear and its effects on recovery. Four variables were studied: delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS), muscular power, muscular strength and creatine Kinase. 12 studies were included and the results were measured at baseline, 24h, 48h and 72h post exercise.
The analysis concluded that compression garments had positive effect on all the variables, showing that compression garments enhance recovery from muscle damage.
Another analysis suggested that compression garments provide ergogenic benefit (performance enhancing) during sport too, with initial studies suggesting increased jump height, faster lactate removal and faster warm up. Not all the studies showed benefit though, with some showing no change in performance for males engaged in high intensity running on a treadmill.
Two points of interest are that in order to promote venous return in the legs compression wear has to achieve a pressure of 18mmhg at the ankle and 8mmhg at the thigh. A garment that provides insufficient compression will not have the same benefits as one that does.
No adverse effects have been reported in the literature from wearing compression garments. It is sensible though to make sure they fit correctly enhance venous return and don’t cut off your blood supply!
Cold Water Immersion (CWI)
A 2012 Review from the British journal of sports medicine concluded that cold water immersion is an effective strategy for improving delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) post intensive exercise. Despite the research showing that it is an effective strategy the mechanism by which it works is unclear. No negative effects of CWI were found, however no long term studies have been done.
CWI improved the symptoms of DOMs at 24h, 48h, 72h and 96 h post intensive exercise. A note here is that DOMS can only be rated subjectively and it is impossible to blind the participants to CWI. This introduces some unavoidable bias.
CWI reduced the efflux of creatine Kinase after exercise
CWI improved the recovery of muscle power after intensive exercise.
CWI the practicalities: When? How long? How cold?
In the studies analyzed the intervention was applied within one hour of the exercise and could be repeated daily for five days post exercise. The studies varied between ten and twenty minutes with the majority using 12 to15 minutes per session. At least half the studies performed the CWI twice to four times in a 24 hour period.
The temperatures chosen were 5 degrees (4 studies) 10 degrees (3 studies) 15 degrees (five studies) 12,5 and 9.3 degrees, one study each. As you can see the protocols are varied, leaving you with a wide range of possibilities in temperature and time. It was suggested in the discussion that a faster rate of muscle cooling would be achieved with less adipose athletes and so the protocol can be adjusted for personal body composition.
No analysis was done as to how hydrostatic pressure effects CWI, so we don’t know whether lying in an ice bath is as good as standing in a tall ice bucket. The last pertinent point the study makes is, are the practicalities of performing CWI worth the benefits? How many of us after a long run want to spend time preparing, then standing in a large bucket of ice water?
Hill Jessica, Howatson Glyn, van Someren Ken, Leeder Jonothan, Pedlar Charles: Compression garments and recovery from exercise induced muscle damage: a meta-analysis Br J Sports Med 2014 48:18
Leeder Jonothan, Gissane Conor, van Someren Ken, Gregson Warren, Howatson Glyn: Cold water immersion and recovery from strenuous exercise: a meta-analysis Br J Sports Med 2012; 46:233-240
Wallace Lee, Slattery Katie, Coutts Aaron: Compression garments: Do they influence athletic performance and recovery? Sports Coach 2006 Vol 28, No 4