Is Ice Less Than Ideal?

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Thank goodness it’s Thursday. 


I’m over work, my fridge is bare, and I need a nap.  Is it the weekend yet? 


Easy breakfast:


Another Udi’s bagel with cream cheese:


And a smoothie – a simple one!  Just soy milk, a banana, and frozen strawberries.


Is Ice Less Than Ideal?


I read this New York Times Article this morning and thought it would be an interesting discussion piece – Why Ice May Be Bad For Sore Muscles.



To sum up the article (which, I do want to point out, was based on a study with a VERY small sample size):


  • It may not be helpful for athletes to ice before or in the middle of activity (study source). Icing does numb soreness; however, it significantly reduced muscle strength and power for up to 15 minutes after the icing had ended. 
  • After icing, volunteers could not jump as high, sprint as fast, or throw or strike a ball as well for 20 minutes after icing.
  • Icing also temporarily reduced fine motor coordination and some people experienced impaired limb proprioception (sense of where your limb was in space).
  • Researchers think this is because icing temporarily reduces nerve conduction and impacts the mechanical properties of the muscle tendon.
  • Furthermore, “a small-scale randomized trial found no discernible benefits from icing leg muscle tears. The cooled muscles did not heal faster or feel less painful than the untreated tissues. But, as the researchers point out, it is difficult to scientifically study icing, since you can’t blind people to whether they are receiving the therapy or a placebo. People generally can tell if their muscles are getting cold or not.”
  • As far as icing after exercise is concerned, the article states: “Most earlier studies have found little benefit from icing after exercise, but also few negative side effects.”


Although the article was mainly concerned with icing in the middle of activity, I thought it was very interesting because so many runners take ice baths and claim it helps them recover (I think ice baths are helpful after long runs).


Icing is also something that helped me beat runner’s knee (a condition that I no longer suffer from).


On the other hand, as an acupuncturist, the Husband typically frowns on icing sore muscles or joints because the process stagnantes the ‘qi’ flow of energy to the area and reduces healing time.  If anything, he says that I should take a hot shower following exercise.


Do you ice after exercise?  If you were an athlete in high school or college, did you ever ice immediately before or during exercise?



  • jess January 5, 2012, 10:39 am

    hey, is meganerd still blogging?

    • Caitlin January 5, 2012, 10:40 am

      she’s taking a break! she’s doing well though 🙂 she had a bad cold over christmas but is feeling better now.

      • jess January 5, 2012, 10:41 am

        aw! tell her we all miss her, her blog was fun to read! 🙂

        • megan January 5, 2012, 12:56 pm

          i agree! i miss her updates 🙁

  • Sarah @ See Sarah Eat January 5, 2012, 10:43 am

    I like what your husband said. I hate being cold so I can never stand to ice anything or take an ice bath but after long runs or races, I take a nice hot shower and it makes my muscles feel amazing!

  • Amanda January 5, 2012, 10:44 am

    Hmm…well I guess there are always going to be conflicting views. My husband is an med student (D.O.), and he has been taught that icing can help prevent arthritis later on when you have an injury. I don’t exactly understand the science, but it has something to do with bone forming where it should be cartilage due to an injury. Icing reduces blood in the area so that it heals without forming bone? Something like this? So I guess if you are injured, rather than just regular “sore,” icing is a good idea. Sorry I’m not clear on the science details! Has anyone else heard of this too?

    Love your blog! I’ve been reading for a while now. I’m going to run my first half marathon this September!

    • Caitlin January 5, 2012, 6:58 pm


      Good luck on your half 🙂 You are going to do great. Thanks for reading!

  • Rachel January 5, 2012, 10:45 am

    I never ice unless I have some sort of serious injury.

    My mom sleeps on an ice pack every single night. It has not relieved her back problems in the slightest.

  • Magda January 5, 2012, 10:51 am

    Honestly, it would never occur to me to ice my muscles BEFORE or DURING exercise. My intuition says: when I forget my gloves and it’s cold outside, my fingers get numb so that I even have problems with getting the keys out of my purse or unzipping my coat. I guess something similar happens to muscles when you ice them and I don’t think it’d help my exercise in any way. The only situation when I feel icing may be helpful is when you get injured, to minimize swelling etc. Although I have heard somewhere that you shouldn’t do icing when you suspect a bone may be broken. Not sure why, though 😉

    • Caitlin January 5, 2012, 6:59 pm

      hhaha i like your intuition.

  • Lindsey January 5, 2012, 10:51 am

    I have only iced after long runs (20km or longer), usually with ice bags on my legs/knees for awhile after. I am not sure if it ever helped, but I never had any serious injuries so it might have!

  • Alyse January 5, 2012, 10:52 am

    I read in Outside magazine that icing does not help because your muscles have already been torn during (strenuous) exercise and nothing can help that. Personally I think if it helps someone than they should keep on. It could be a placebo affect or hey, it could actually help. I just started running and an hour or so after I’m done I take a warm bubble bath, which helps me. But some say that’s mega bad.

  • Kim L. January 5, 2012, 10:52 am

    My daughter is a college athlete and they frequently ice after exercising (ice baths in addition to icing specific painful areas). I don’t think she has ever iced before exercise and the only time she has iced during exercise is when she got hurt and didn’t intend to return to practice or the game.

  • Christine @ BookishlyB January 5, 2012, 10:56 am

    I ice as needed, but always after a workout rather than during. I think if something is bothering you enough to need a break for ice your body is probably telling you to call it quits for the day.

  • Natalie January 5, 2012, 10:59 am

    I have never iced before or during exercise. In college I was on the track and field team and I would ice after training or a meet. Today, I do not ice at all. I guess I agree with your husband. I don’t like it. My muscles feel tighter for some reason and my joints feel creeky. I like to stretch and then take a hot shower after. Sometimes I even use a warm compress.

  • Mark January 5, 2012, 10:59 am

    Icing before or during, as some other commenters have pointed out, makes no sense due to it obviously inhibiting your muscle ability/coordination. I can’t remember anyone when I was a high school athlete icing before or during a game, though they may have done so before some practices.

    The primary benefit from ice would be the numbness, I imagine. Probably won’t help you heal (and of course it depends on whether you’re injured or just fatigued) but it might make you feel a little better temporarily.

    Of course, no medical training here, so maybe I’m way off base…

  • Cait @ Beyond Bananas January 5, 2012, 11:00 am

    I take ice baths after runs of 10 miles or more. I didn’t always do this and found that taking ice baths made me feel better.

    In high school.. I remember sitting in the trainer’s office with my my leg in the ice bath. Then I’d get stim or ultra sound.. do some exercises.. and join in on practice about half way through.

  • Kristy @ KristyRuns January 5, 2012, 11:01 am

    I would never ice before or during (if that’s possible?) exercise. I love ice baths the day after long (18+ mile) runs though! I swear they’ve kept me healthy through 9 marathons!

  • Katie @ Healthy Heddleston January 5, 2012, 11:07 am

    I don’t ice now but I remember after volleyball practice in college we were all getting something iced.

  • katie @ KatieDid January 5, 2012, 11:07 am

    I’ve never ice bathed and probably never will- too much of a wimp! Icing definetely helped my runners knee last year though so I do believe its a good thing to use on occasion.

  • Hillary January 5, 2012, 11:15 am

    I only iced a couple of times after long runs during my first half marathon training. Usually, I do what your husband suggests and take a nice warm shower after a run—I feel like it loosens me up much better!

  • Nicole January 5, 2012, 11:16 am

    What does your hubby say about treating the achilles tendon? I’m headed to the doctor next week but was curious to get an opinion from a different source. Thank you!

    • Caitlin January 5, 2012, 7:00 pm

      He would have to do an intake on you to really be able to give you advice. But generally he would recommend acupuncture, rest, and supplements.

  • Amy @loveAmyx January 5, 2012, 11:26 am

    Where has MegaNerd gone? Couldn’t find her blog or twitter at the weekend 🙁

    • Amy @loveAmyx January 5, 2012, 11:28 am

      Sorry, realised you’ve already been asked and answered this question.

      Amy x

  • Sarah January 5, 2012, 11:29 am

    I’m having trouble beating my “runners” (well… I’m only skiing/cross-training now, not running anymore) knee.

    I did months of physical therapy (now I have strong stabilizing muscles), had a cortisone shot (which has worn off), and I ice after skiing. I still get pain though and am afraid to run.

    Do you think the acupuncture and herbal supplements were significant for your recovery? I haven’t tried that yet.

    • Caitlin January 5, 2012, 7:01 pm

      I think the supplements made a HUGE difference, I didn’t do acupuncture regularly enough to get the impact from it.

      • Sarah January 6, 2012, 1:16 pm

        Thanks for the reply, I’ll ask my naturopath for a recommendation.

  • Kayla January 5, 2012, 11:34 am

    I ice all the time to get through the shows I perform in! Even if it’s just a mental thing, I feel like it really helps. And sometimes numbing the area is what you actually want to happen, isnt it? Great post!

  • Laura January 5, 2012, 11:34 am

    I have an ice pack on right now as we speak. My main problem is my back – when it’s achy I use heat, but when it’s spasming like a beast (oh, like right now) then I ice it. I’m trying to kill whatever demons live in there.

  • Claire January 5, 2012, 11:35 am

    This is interesting. I always used to ice my shiouder when I was a swimmer and now I definitely find it to be helpful fir my knees as a runner. I think the article is interesting but honestly I dont think a study on mid-workout icing is going to reveal a lot about long term benefits of icing an injury after the workout. Also I like what the husband said about icing from a holistic perspective. I do sometimes find that a hot shower makes my IT band feel better than icing would have. However I think it depends on the injury. Once my physical therapist did treatment on my knee when it was really really bad and he told me not to alter the temperature in any way (no hot shower and dont go out in the cold) for several hours after he worked on my knee. I’m not sure why that was though.

  • Jo @ Jo In the Kitchen January 5, 2012, 11:51 am

    I’m a dancer and we were always taught never to ice before or during activity. The reason being that cold muscles are more likely to get injured, just like when you don’t properly warm up before a performance or class. My rule has always been to warm up properly, stretch afterwards, and when my muscles have cooled and contracted later, ice.

  • Alyssa January 5, 2012, 11:56 am

    I had to run through an icy creek during a recent ultramarathon at somewhere around miles 47 and 52. I think that’s the only time I’ve “iced” during exercise. I did not find either creek crossing helpful to my race.

  • Chelsea January 5, 2012, 12:07 pm

    I took my first ice bath recently and it was AMAAZING! I was always so nervous, but I just hopped in and loved it. I felt so relaxed and rejuvenated after.

  • faith January 5, 2012, 12:13 pm

    As a personal trainer and dancer my first reaction is “duh, of course icing in the middle of exercise is not good!”. We work to warm up our muscles and prepare them for movement, it makes to sense to me to cool them down then ask them to move again. I should probably read the article before I say anything more about that though. I will say that I am a true believer in icing after exercise or with an injury and ice baths helped me tremendously for the first and only marathon I’ve completed.

  • Chelsea @ One Healthy Munchkin January 5, 2012, 12:32 pm

    I sometimes ice my legs after a hard leg workout because I always get so sore afterwards. I don’t really know if I’ve noticed a difference after I ice… but I do it anyways! 😛

  • Lu January 5, 2012, 12:36 pm

    I ice a lot. I firmly believe that it helps me. I injured my shoulder a while back and had a flare up recently. I took an ice pack and wrapped my shoulder and fell asleep that way. This was unintentional. When I woke up the next morning my shoulder felt so much better. I also ice after long runs and find that it helps to relieve the pain almost immediately.

  • Dana @ the Big Fat Skinny January 5, 2012, 12:39 pm

    I’m a fan of icing post-exercise. I found it to significantly help a back injury that I got while marathon training. I still ice my back after long runs or back to back days of running to keep the injury at bay. I’ve never iced mid-workout.

  • Elizabeth @ reads recipes runs January 5, 2012, 12:53 pm

    I always ice after my runs, but never before. I just feel like going out with super cold muscles is just a bad idea.

    When I was dancing 6 days a week in HS and college, I was never an ice fan, but I went through tubs of tiger balm like it was lotion.

  • Emily January 5, 2012, 12:55 pm

    Thanks for all of the info. I am just beginning my marathon training (this is my first week of it!) and I know that this is going to come in handy as I start adding more and more miles!

    • Caitlin January 5, 2012, 7:01 pm

      Good luck with training!

  • nancy January 5, 2012, 12:55 pm

    Yes! Icing is important, but I think it’s also important to understand why. Icing causes fresh blood to flood into the injured/sore area, pumping out cellular debris and bringing in fresh, well oxygenated blood. That speeds the healing process after strenuous exercise or injury. Heat feels good, but ice really is better for your body. I am not discounting the “qi” aspect at all. I am just pointing out what icing does from a very basic standpoint (speaking as a massage therapist). Love to hear other input though!

    • Justine January 5, 2012, 6:26 pm

      Well… I think you’ve mixed up the benefits of heat and ice. Ice actually causes vasoconstriction which limits the rush of blood, lymph, and inflammatory mediators to an area after injury. Your body needs these to heal, of course, but it is also what makes an area swollen and sore. In extreme cases too much swelling can be a very bad thing- compressed blood vessels or nerves.

      This is why ice is generally recommended in the first 24 hours following after acute injury. After that, heat causes vasodilation and allows oxygen carrying red blood cells and clean-up white blood cells to the area, and can carry debris away.

      I am guessing with running since it’s not an “acute” injury, daily icing is just to limit soreness and swelling. I say if it work, stick with it!

      (I’m an RN)

  • Annette @ EnjoyYourHealthyLife January 5, 2012, 1:02 pm

    I am all about hot showers and heating later on (NOT right after). I use an essential oil muscle rub that also significantly helps in muscle repair and reducing soreness. I’ve never liked icing anyways 😉 Hah. It can help in swelling, but if used during the exercise, that can be dangerous.

    Love a good smoothie in the a.m.!

  • k January 5, 2012, 1:04 pm

    I used to ice, but i don’t really anymore. If anything, I do hot/cold flushes. I get in the shower and direct the water onto the affected area. First I have it as hot as I can stand it, then make it as cold as I can tolerate. I alternate about 30sec of each, and repeat it several times, always ending on cold. It’s supposed to be a lot more effective at pumping out cellular waste and encouraging fresh blood flow than just ice alone. I use this a lot not just for injuries, but before stretching and foamrolling for muscles that are really tight. I find I get a way deeper stretch this way and rolling isn’t nearly as painful.

  • Elisabeth January 5, 2012, 1:08 pm

    When I was doing physical therapy for a broken ankle a few years ago, I was told that whichever felt best to you (heat or cold) should be used. The PA I saw for what turned out to be be tendinitis in my foot said the same thing. Actually, I agree with your husband – I always feel much better with heat. If I have a tired back or stiff knees or something like that, I MUCH prefer a heating pad and/or a hot shower.

  • Gina @ Running to the Kitchen January 5, 2012, 1:20 pm

    This is interesting because I feel like icing has always helped me recover faster when I get injured. Granted, I’ve never tried the dreaded ice baths after long runs but people swear by them!

  • Whitney January 5, 2012, 1:31 pm

    Very interesting topic! I played college basketball and before every practice/game I would use a heat pad on my muscles and afterwards always iced. This is what our trainers advised. I have since switched to running since my basketball days are over and continue the same routine. I always thought that icing was good to reduce the inflammation and it always makes my knees feel better after my long runs 🙂

  • Katheryn January 5, 2012, 1:38 pm

    I have trained and ran 3 marathons and 5 half marathons, and have never taken an ice bath. My routine after long runs are always stretching and a hot shower. If I have something that is sore I might bring out the heating pad. That seems to help.

  • Georgina January 5, 2012, 1:40 pm

    Hi Caitlin, I was listening to a Colleen Patrick-Goudreau podcast today. Colleen along with a couple of others is putting together a list of well being practitioners in the USA who are sympathetic to those following vegetarian diets. They are particularly interested in finding acupuncturists. I thought your husband may be interested in being added to that list. Colleen can be reached

  • Angela @ Eat Spin Run Repeat January 5, 2012, 1:43 pm

    Ooh good debate! I iced a lot when I ran university cross country and even though I didn’t particularly enjoy it at the time, I found that a routine of icing and foam rolling seemed to keep me feeling better than doing neither. Having said that, after my first marathon I didn’t have an ice bath available and really wasn’t that much more sore than usual in the days that followed. Go figure!

  • Khushboo January 5, 2012, 1:46 pm

    I am currently nursing shin splints and icing for at least 20 mins twice a day…I’ve definitely noticed the difference!

  • Amber K January 5, 2012, 1:51 pm

    I never understood the ice thing, it always made me feel worse. Even with my foot being injured I haven’t followed the I of RICE because it just doesn’t seem to help me.

  • Rebecca @ Naturally Healthy and Gorgeous January 5, 2012, 2:13 pm

    I am not a fan of icing because I hate being cold but when I pitched fastpitch, ice was the only thing that would help my arm muscles.

  • Sarah January 5, 2012, 2:39 pm

    I like ice baths in the summer after long runs, but I am a weenie and do cool water + ice, instead of cold water + ice. I feel like it helps, even if it’s just a mental thing.

    In high school/college we didn’t do ice baths, but I do remember icing my shins with a Dixie cup ice cube for shin splints.

  • Katie @ Peace Love and Oats January 5, 2012, 2:59 pm

    I’ve never heard of icing during activity, but I’ve definitely benefitted from icing afterwards!

  • Laura January 5, 2012, 3:46 pm

    I swear by ice baths after 10+ mile runs. Before I started taking them I would be consistently sore for 1-2 days after anything over 10 miles. This year I started taking ice baths after longer runs (ran 7 races in 7 mos) and had zero soreness. I also backed off from running PRs as well and increased my half time from 2:03 to 2:09. (For me, letting myself take a few extra minutes created less stress training and allowed me to enjoy running the races more) Either way, I’m not sore anymore and am still gonna soak!

  • Allison January 5, 2012, 3:52 pm

    I used to ice all the time when I played basketball and lacrosse- it helped with the swelling and took away the immediate pain… More recently, I’ve used ice after long runs on my knees and again, it’s helped with the swelling and pain but it definitely isn’t a healer.

  • Anna January 5, 2012, 4:47 pm

    I’m currently an athlete in college (swimmer) and I started taking ice baths after nearly every practice. Now that we’re on a training trip in Florida, there’s no convenient way to take an ice bath–I have DEFINITELY noticed a difference!

  • KlarZ January 5, 2012, 5:03 pm

    I’m currently icing my shoulders because they’ve been killing me lately. I’m kind of hoping that it’s because I’ve been pregnant because it’s a real pain in the neck place to be consistently sore–I don’t really feel like going back to physical therapy. It’s so expensive!

    How have your runs been? I feel like I’ve been dragging ass more since I got knocked up but maybe I’ve just been having a few off weeks.

    • Caitlin January 5, 2012, 7:02 pm

      My runs got much slower right away – no energy! Lots of people say that’s their first sign.

  • Army Amy* January 5, 2012, 6:31 pm

    I do take ice baths. (I ran back to back half marathons this weekend, so I was definitely hitting the ice in between races.) I will say, though, that I really fall for the placebo effect. Even if something doesn’t help me, I’ll assume that it does and feel better mentally.*

  • Heather @ Bake, Run, Live January 5, 2012, 6:39 pm

    I have never been able to ice or take an ice bath after a long run. I am too cold to be able to tolerate that. I go with the heat! The bathroom heater is on high at least an hour before I take a shower. That way the bathroom is soooo nice and toasty. I’ll take my coconut water and stretch out in there, and then take my shower.

  • MegaNerd January 5, 2012, 7:00 pm

    heeeeey its meeeee

    miss you pal!

    • michaela January 5, 2012, 10:55 pm

      what happened to your blog?

  • Linz @ ItzLinz January 5, 2012, 7:25 pm

    it depends on the body party for me… knees – i do ice. back – i prefer warmth.

  • Nikki January 5, 2012, 10:37 pm

    The first study mentioned in the NYT isn’t a small study, it’s a meta-analysis of many different studies, which is an incredibly powerful statistical technique. The second study is only small because it’s intended as a pilot study, which it states on the first page. Just two important points of clarification when you’re talking about research.

    • CaitlinHTP January 6, 2012, 7:21 am

      Thanks Nikki!

  • Gracie January 5, 2012, 10:49 pm

    I’ve never been a fan of icing. Ice is for inflammation. If you aren’t actively suffering from inflammation, there’s no reason to ice after running! And if you ARE inflamed….ahem….why are you running?!
    Another fad I’m not sold on is compression. A healthy person shouldn’t physiologically need compression during exercise: in fact, it could restrict blood flow rather than increase it.

  • Lexi @ Cura Personalis Foodie January 6, 2012, 1:09 am

    For whatever reason, I love the feeling of icing because it numbs the area. At the same time, I can totally see your husband’s point. It seems like heat would help loosen the muscle/alleviate the pain.

  • Jen January 6, 2012, 11:14 pm

    As a therapist I don’t think that any one treatment, such as ice or heat, holds any “mystical” properties that will help heal your injury. Ice is basically treating the symptoms – not the cause. If you are injured and experiencing inflammation in a joint or muscle, then ice does (as mentioned in your findings) decrease pain by slowing down nerve conduction through pain pathways. Whenever I have iced, it basically served to dull the pain for awhile and kept me off my feet – so that coupled with rest, yes, can aid in decreasing symptoms and helping with healing. But, ice itself doesn’t “heal” you. As far as muscle soreness, same thing – it decreases inflammation by slowing down blood flow to the area. It’s kind of akin to putting a cold washcloth over your face or arms, chest when you have a fever. It helps cool you down and decrease blood flow, etc.

    Great and informative post – keep up the great work!!

  • Rhona January 7, 2012, 1:30 pm

    Ice baths are good because they reduce inflammation, muscle damage etc, however research has found that this actually blunts the training adaptation.

    The inflammation actually causes the body to adapt to the training.

    To give you a quick summary of one of the research studies: 2 groups of runners did a downhill run to induce muscle damage. One group had an ice bath afterwards, the other didn’t. The group who had an ice bath showed less evidence of muscle damage the day after, and felt a lot better than the group that hadn’t had an ice bath. However a few weeks later the run was repeated, and the group that had taken an ice bath the first time suffered more muscle damage and pain after the run than the group who hadn’t had an ice bath the first time. In other words the non-ice bath group had adapted to be able to cope better with the run.

    So in practice, ice baths are good if you want to recover quicker after a particularly hard session, or in the lead up to a race, but should probably not be used on a regular basis.

  • Wendy Heath January 8, 2012, 5:25 am

    I drive my poor PT/Chiro nuts. He is a huge ice fan, and recommends it after he’s done deep tissue stripping on me. It’s to limit the influx of inflammatory agents and reduce swelling… supposed to ice 20 minutes on/off to prevent “rebound” inflammation, where your body freaks out because you’ve iced too long and tries to warm up the area forcibly, which can cause more inflammation… nasty cycle that.

    However… my favorite thing EVER is my rice pack. I hate being cold, I love heat, I can sit in hot showers all day, and use the rice pack on areas that hurt or get chilly (like my toesies!) I need to go reheat mine, as I’m using it to keep warm at my night shift gig right now…

  • Carina January 9, 2012, 2:14 pm

    From the time I started distance running nearly a decade ago I’ve always heard the science on ice baths was mixed, but it’s definitely still something I do after anything at 20 miles or more. Not sure it helps really, and 20 mins in icy water sucks, but it’s not the end of the world and I can handle it, so I still do it.

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