Ice or heat to aid recovery?
See my video:
Does Cryotherapy help aid recovery?
Cryotherapy is cold therapy like an ice bath or a whole body cryo-chamber. A Cochrane review showed poor studies and no evidence that whole-body Cryotherapy after training is effective, or safe for recovery(1). Whole-body Cryotherapy just makes you feel good because you get numb and euphoric.
One review article showed that body-specific Cryotherapy helped reduce or delayed onset of muscle soreness (DOMS) for up to 72 hours subjectively, but there were no changes in objective measures (2).
However, there is no proven benefit and it may even hinders healing. Prolonged Cryotherapy can limit blood flow, which can initially be good for swelling, but prolonged blood flow limitations also limit healing.
Icing a particularly sore body part after working out for 3-5 minutes may make it feel better and may reduce soreness for the next couple of days which is good. However, there is not much convincing evidence it will help recovery. I do not recommend icing or Cryotherapy to help injuries however as it may inhibit healing.
Does far-infrared heat/sauna help recovery?
Far Infrared heat is a type of heat that is on the higher wavelength of the light spectrum and penetrates deeper in the skin, 3-4 cm that can help warm your fat, muscles, and nervous system. In a far infrared sauna, the surrounding air is not heated as much as a regular sauna, so a far infrared sauna can be more tolerated by people. The normal radiant head typically just heats the skin a few mm deep. The thought is the deeper infrared heat can help muscle recovery or stimulate blood flow deeper. There is really not much evidence that it helps recovery except one small study of 10 people showed some mild improvement in the neuromuscular system recovery after maximal endurance efforts (3).
A review study showed very mild evidence that a far infrared sauna could help blood pressure, chronic pain, chronic fatigue, exercise tolerance, and oxidative stress (4).
What about infrared heating pads?
There, 1 study that took 50 office workers with back pain, had them use a far infrared heating pad for 45 min throughout the day for 4 weeks. They showed improvement in pain and clinical scores over the 4 weeks (5). There was a better randomized-control trial comparing the infrared heat device to placebo and showed significant reductions in pain (6).
A far infrared sauna is generally safe to use and can potentially help recovery even though the evidence is sparse. We recommend infrared heating pads after injuries as it may help aid in recovery. These can also be used for helping sore muscles, or before or after working out. These make more sense than regular heating pads that only heat the skin and if used too long can cause burns. For infrared heating pads or saunas, you still would not want to use more than 30 min at a time, and no more than 3 times per day. And if the pain persists, that may be a sign you need more long-term treatments, like those we have at Centeno-Schultz Clinic.
1. Joseph T Costello Philip RA Baker Geoffrey M Minett Francois Bieuzen Ian B Stewart Chris Bleakley. Cochrane review: whole‐body cryotherapy (extreme cold air exposure) for preventing and treating muscle soreness after exercise in adults. First published:14 January 2016 https://doi.org/10.1111/jebm.12187
2. Hohenauer E, Taeymans J, Baeyens JP, Clarys P, Clijsen R. The Effect of Post-Exercise Cryotherapy on Recovery Characteristics: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. PLoS One. 2015;10(9):e0139028. Published 2015 Sep 28. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0139028
3. Mero A, Tornberg J, Mäntykoski M, Puurtinen R. Effects of far-infrared sauna bathing on recovery from strength and endurance training sessions in men. Springerplus. 2015;4:321. Published 2015 Jul 7. doi:10.1186/s40064-015-1093-5
4. Beever R. Far-infrared saunas for treatment of cardiovascular risk factors: summary of published evidence. Can Fam Physician. 2009;55(7):691–696.
5. Ervolino F, Gazze R. Far infrared wavelength treatment for low back pain: Evaluation of a non-invasive device. Work. 2015;53(1):157-162. doi:10.3233/WOR-152152
6. George D Gale,1 Peter J Rothbart,1 and Ye Li. Infrared Therapy for Chronic Low Back Pain: A Randomized, Controlled Trial. Pain Research and Management, 2006. Volume 11. Article ID 876920. https://doi.org/10.1155/2006/876920