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Does Compression and Ice help recovery?

Yes. Compression over an ice-pack results in a greater amount of relative tissue cooling. Which, in turn, aids the recovery process.

This was one of the conclusions from a paper entitled The Magnitude of Tissue Cooling During Cryotherapy With Varied Types of Compression by D. Tomchuk et al. It appeared in the Journal of Athletic Training in 2010.

The research team set out to explore the performance of ice application when paired with 2 common types of external compression wraps.

The researchers invited 14 participants (10 female, 4 male) to experience 3 different 30 minute ice applications to the calf muscle:

  1. Bag of ice resting on the muscle with no compression
  2. Bag of ice held in place with an plastic wrap
  3. Bag of ice held in place with an elastic bandage

During these applications temperature was taken every 5 minutes for a duration of 30 minutes and then every 10 minutes over the next 60 minutes:

  1. On the skin surface
  2. Intramuscular
  3. On the external surface of the compressive wrap
Surface temperature change over time of ice plus compression method

There was an immediate average temperature decrease of 14°C in the first 5 minutes for the ice and elastic compared to 10°C for ice on its own. With similar results for the plastic wrap compared to no ice.

The elastic wrap continued to accelerate its decrease in skin temperature.

At the end of the 30 minute period of icing the temperature climbed towards baseline.

Intramuscular temperature change over time of ice application plus compression method

The intramuscular temperatures declined at different rates to the skin and continued to decline for ten minutes after the application had concluded. Temperatures took longer to return to base line and they were lower with compression compared to no compression application.

The researchers attribute the difference in the temperature between the compressive wraps to their relative insulative properties. Observing that the surface to air temperature of the elastic wrap remained higher throughout.

Key considerations: External compression provides a greater magnitude of tissue cooling. The choice of compression material may enhance the speed, magnitude and length of muscle cooling. This may result in quicker recovery.

The research team acknowledge that the ideal temperature for cryotherapy has yet to be determined and that a limiting factor in this study is that the level of compression was not recorded. This would benefit from further investigation.

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