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Hot and cold treatments

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  • Hot and cold treatments

    Mel, thanks for the question. On occasion over the last two years I have
    tried to find research that has tested mechanisms for hot and cold
    treatments but come up empty handed. Most research has investigated the
    use of heat for increasing muscle strength and power by increasing muscle
    temperature, or investigated cold treatment for DOMS relief.

    However, the conclusions I've drawn and follow are thus...
    Short duration (< 5 mins) cold application by ice bath or ice might cool
    the skin but not cool the muscles significantly. In this instance it is
    likely that blood is shunted to the viscera, and also deep into muscles, in
    order to limit heat loss. Then, short duration heat application by hot
    shower or spa would cause a shunting of blood back to the skin to increase
    heat release and maintain body temperature. In this instance, blood in
    continually shunted from deep in the muscles (and, unfortunately the
    viscera) to the skin. Such a 'pumping' action may (and this I have no
    references for) increase the removal of metabolites, increase the ability
    for oxygen to get to the muscles, and improve glycogen storage by
    continually allowing 'fresh' blood to get into the muscle and 'older' blood
    to be removed from the muscle. Remember, blood is only forced through veins
    by body movement, so once you sit or lye down after training, the movement
    of blood is reduced substantially. The hot/cold variations may keep blood
    moving and therefore aid recovery.

    Nontheless, in athletes where DOMS is likely (you may have seen or heard a
    lot from baseball pitchers) it is possible that cold treatment alone may be
    best. This is because, as eluded to in previous discussion on this topic,
    cold treatment slows nerve conduction velocity (i.e. it limits pain),
    triggers vasoconstriction of the local area and slows the movement of cell
    fluids from damaged cells. Thus, oedema, and possibly the delayed onset
    soreness we feel after such exercise, might be reduced. While not
    completely proven scientifically, much anecdotal evidence (yes, from those
    baseballers) suggests that the effect of DOMS on subsequent days is reduced
    substantially if ice is applied immediately post-exercise.

    In conclusion, it might be likely that cold treatment is best for those
    athletes who are likely to have DOMS after training or competing, but
    alternating hot/cold treatments may be ideal for other athletes seeking to
    recover quickly from their bouts of exercise. Thus, as always, there is no
    one rule, but we have to treat specific situations differently.

    Hope this helps.


    ************************************************** ****************
    Anthony (Tony) Blazevich
    School of Exercise Science and Sport Management
    Southern Cross University
    Lismore NSW Australia, 2480

    Phone: +61 2 6620 3231
    Fax: +61 2 6620 3880
    Mobile: 0416 200 674 (Australia only)

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