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11-12-2011 | Physical rehabilitation | Article

Extreme cold beneficial for exercise recovery


Free abstract

MedWire News: Study findings suggest that whole-body cryotherapy (WBC), where individuals are exposed to air as cold as -140°C, is effective at enhancing post-exercise recovery in well-trained runners.

The researchers found that three WBC sessions performed within 48 hours of a strenuous simulated trail running race accelerated recovery from exercise-induced muscle damage (EIMD) to a greater extent than far infrared (FIR) or passive (PAS) recovery modalities.

In three nonadjoining weeks, nine runners were instructed to perform three identical repetitions of a simulated trail run on a motorized treadmill, designed to induce muscle damage.

Immediately, and post 24 and 48 hours after each running exercise, all participants underwent one of three recovery modalities: WBC, FIR, or PAS.

"WBC consists of exposure to very cold air that is maintained at -110°C to -140°C in a special temperature-controlled cryochamber, generally for 3-4 minutes," explain Christophe Hausswirth (National Institute of Sport, Paris, France) and colleagues.

They assessed classical indicators of EIMD, such as plasma creatine kinase (CK) activity, isometric maximal voluntary torque (maximal voluntary contractions [MVC]), and perceived sensations of pain, tiredness, and well-being immediately before and after each simulated running trail, and after each of the three recovery sessions (post 1 hour, 24 hours, and 48 hours).

As expected, the running exercise induced significant muscle damage in all runners, as indicated by a reduction in MVC, an increase in plasma CK activity, and an increase in pain and tiredness sensations, write Hausswirth et al.

MVC capacity was recovered after the first WBC session (post 1 hour), while it was recovered later (post 24 hours) with FIR and was not recovered in the PAS condition.

Pain and tiredness were reduced post 1 hour by WBC, whereas FIR only reduced pain at a later time point (post 48 hours). In the PAS group, both pain and perceived tiredness were not reduced 48 hours post-exercise. Beneficial effects on well-being were also reported post 24 hours with WBC and post 48 hours with FIR, but not with PAS.

No effect of recovery modalities on CK activity was observed in any recovery group at any testing period.

Writing in the journal PLoS ONE, the authors conclude: "The results indicate that sufficiently low temperatures and a whole body exposure to cold seem to be beneficial in enhancing the sensation of recovery."

By Nikki Withers

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