Avoid Triathlon Training Injuries With an Ice Bath

By Dr. Chris Segler

Ice may be an age-old remedy for aching muscles and sore Achilles tendons, but it has an everyday use for marathon runners and triathletes. The post-run ice bath may help you to decrease muscle soreness, train harder and stay injury-free.

When you train, the goal is to get sore, but not broken. Most marathon runners and triathletes have either suffered an overuse injury or know someone who has. An overuse injury may be the best way to derail your fitness and destroy your chances of success in your goal race.

Many novice runners think that when they run, their muscles get stronger. However, experienced athletes know that the muscles actually get stronger when you recover after a run.

When you run hard enough get improve your muscular fitness, you actually create tiny little tears to the muscle fibers in your legs. In the 12-48 hours after this injury, your body responds by repairing the damage and strengthening the muscle tissue. It is this recovery from the soft tissue injury that makes you stronger.

The obvious way to get stronger is to train harder while still allowing your body to fully recover and rebuild the tissue injury that you inflict during your training sessions. If you overdo it and tear the tendon that attaches the muscle to the bone, tendinitis results. This is precisely what transpires when an over training injury begins.

The most common overuse injuries in runners are shin splints, stress fractures and tendinitis. Muscle strains can also occur in runners that do speed work and intervals. The reality is that there is a very fine line between how hard you can train without injuring a muscle, tendon or ligament.

One way to increase the gap between training at your limit and training beyond your limit (to the point that could produce an over training injury) is to speed your recovery. This is where an ice bath comes in. A post-run ice bath can help you prevent overuse injuries and recover faster.

Let’s say you do a long run. All of that pounding really stresses your muscles (good) and your tendons (bad). The muscles recover quickly because they have a much better blood supply than the tendons. Immersing your inflamed muscles, tendons and ligaments in fifty to sixty degree water will help block any excessive inflammation that has the potential to lead to tendinitis or severe muscle soreness.

Studies show that soaking for ten minutes in an ice bath will decrease the temperature inside the muscle and reduce the inflammatory signal chemicals that might delay tissue recovery. The result is less soreness and faster rebuilding of the muscle tissue that makes you stronger.

I am not going to tell you that sitting in an ice bath is as pleasant as soaking in a hot tub. It is true that it can be quite uncomfortable at first. But, the way to think about it is this: when you run on a cold rainy day, you gain mental toughness and a belief in yourself that you are doing the workouts that your competition may not be willing to do. When I get in an ice bath after a 20 mile run or 90 mile ride, I tell myself it is the price of getting faster than the competition.

The best way to do an ice bath is to fill the bathtub just enough to cover your thighs when you sit in the tub. Add several trays of ice cubes as you fill the bathtub. Ideally the water will be in the 50-59 degree F range. When you sit down in the ice bath, keep you legs outstretched and completely under the surface. Be prepared to have your breath taken away for the first few seconds.

Ten to fifteen minutes in an ice bath is plenty of time to constrict the blood vessels in the muscles, reduce inflammation, flush out the metabolic waste products and prevent excessive soreness. Wait at least 30 minutes before you have a hot shower. Repeating this routine after interval training, long runs and hard bike rides can help you capitalize on your hard efforts and give you a leg up on the competition.

Dr. Christopher Segler is an Ironman triathlete and award-winning foot surgeon in San Francisco. His sports medicine podiatry practice focuses on marathon runners and triathletes. To learn more about rapid recover from running injuries like ankle sprains, stress fractures and Achilles tendinitis visit http://www.anklecenter.com

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