Not so Chilling News for Runners

ice bath 2As a former marathon runner, I vividly remember having to endure ice-cold baths after heavy training sessions and competitive events in an attempt to reduce inflammation and speed up my recovery.  i also recall that this process was not only time consuming but also bone-chillingly painful.  While I enjoyed race running and even embraced the hours of pavement pounding leading up to competition, I loathed this recovery.  Each time as I sat shivering, I’d miserably moan to anybody who would listen that I’d be better off with a glass of wine, a nap in the sun, a hot bath and an early night!

So it was with mixed emotions I read about a new study that found ice baths aren’t all that effective.  And while I’m glad for the next generation of athletes, I can’t help but wish this has been published 20 years earlier.

The study, published in the European Journal of Applied Physiology, showed no mitigation of post-exercise strength loss or decreased soreness in subjects who engaged in post-exercise cryotheraphy, or ice baths, compared to a control group.

It doesn’t help you feel better and it doesn’t help you perform better,” says lead researcher Naomi Crystal. “Ice baths are very popular as a treatment, but the research is really mixed as to whether they’re beneficial. They’re miserable. If it doesn’t work, you don’t want to waste your time.”

The researchers had 20 active college-age men run downhill at a grade of 10% for 40 minutes. Half the subjects then submitted to a 20-minute ice bath, standing in a tall recycling bin filled with thigh-high ice water cooled to a chilly five degrees Celsius (40 degrees F).

cryotherapy researchThey then measured the ice bath’s effect on soreness, strength, swelling and inflammation by conducting three post-exercise measures taken at intervals from one hour to three days:

  • the subjects’ perceived soreness while walking down stairs
  • quadriceps strength on a resistance machine
  • thigh circumference
  • concentration of plasma chemokine ligand 2 (CCL2), a marker for inflammation

The results showed no difference in strength or perceived soreness between the subjects who took ice baths and the control group. Thigh circumference did not change significantly for any of the subjects after the run.

Difference between the two groups’ CCL2 concentrations, while not statistically significant, showed a trend toward lower concentrations in the cryotherapy subjects, although this measure varied greatly between the subjects.

icebathThe lack of difference between the control and the cryotherapy group surprised the researchers. “I expected to see an improvement in soreness, an improvement in strength with the ice bath,” says Crystal.

Although the researchers conclude that their study does not support the use of cryotherapy for recovery from exercise, Crystal’s personal view is more moderate. “I’m not convinced that it doesn’t help at all,” she says. “Use them sparingly. Use them in tournament situations, use them with an athlete who has done something extraordinary. But for day-to-day athletes, I wouldn’t recommend them. They’re painful, and they’re time consuming.”

Amen Sister, amen!

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Wishing our readers a Happy & Healthy Labor Day

Labor Day has been celebrated in the US since 1882.  Back then, the observance of Labor Day was supposed to be marked by a street parade to exhibit to the public “the strength and esprit de corps of the trade and labor organizations” of the community, followed by a festival for the recreation and amusement of the workers and their families.

This became the pattern for the celebrations of Labor Day. Speeches by prominent men and women were introduced later, as more emphasis was placed upon the economic and civic significance of the holiday. Still later, by a resolution of the American Federation of Labor convention of 1909, the Sunday preceding Labor Day was adopted as Labor Sunday and dedicated to the spiritual and educational aspects of the labor movement.

The character of the Labor Day celebration has undergone a change in recent years, especially in large industrial centers where mass displays and huge parades have proved a problem. However, the first Monday in September is still a day on which the nation is supposed to pay tribute to the creator of our nation’s strength, freedom, and leadership – the American worker.

And while Labor Day may be a celebration of work, it’s also summer’s official last hurrah. In other words it’s an opportunity to enjoy the great outdoors and the last of the great weather by doing something healthy.

Assuming Hurricane Isaac and its remnants stay away from DC, I’m hoping to spend my weekend swimming, biking, running, gardening and otherwise enjoying the outdoors.

Whatever you decide, we wish you a happy and healthy Labor Day…and should it not be a holiday where you live, happy Monday!

Allergic to Running?

Earlier this week I posted on facebook, asking if any of my friends wanted to join me in an Iron Girl Triathlon this fall, So far, there has been a distinct lack of takers. Or to be more precise, nobody, not one single solitary person, has taken me up on the challenge.

I did, however, hear a lot of reasons why people didn’t want to swim, bike and run with me at 7am on a September morning.  Among the best of these: “I’d love to, but I think I’m allergic to sport.”

I think she was trying to be funny – though with my friends you never can tell!

You see, not only do most of my friends have a wicked sense of humor, most are also involved one way or another with healthcare, and maybe, just maybe, she who will remain nameless, really is allergic to running.

While it may sound like the perfect excuse, people can in fact suffer an anaphylactic reaction to exercise.  But, before you cancel your gym membership and start justifying your life as a couch potato, I should point out that it’s generally pretty rare.

People usually associate working out with an increased heart rate and a nice endorphin rush — not hives, or shock. But it can happen.

Cholinergic urticaria, a common type of heat rash, can occur when there’s an increase in body temperature and when mast cells in the skin break down right before releasing sweat. Studies suggest up to 11% of adults experience post-exercise hive attacks, men, more commonly than women.

Even worse is exercise-induced anaphylaxis.  Like the name suggests, it’s triggered by exercise, especially running. Anaphylaxis, is more commonly seen after insect stings or eating shellfish and peanuts.  And just as with food allergies, those affected by exercise can experience symptoms including vomiting, hives, difficulty breathing, collapse and even death…although fewer than 1,000 cases and only one exercise-related fatality have been reported since the 1970s.

So while running (or Iron Girl Triathlons) may not be everyone’s favorite fitness activity, the “I’m allergic” excuse is reserved for those (un)lucky few.

And even then, most cases can be avoided.

Usually, it’s triggered by eating certain foods before exercise. But this isn’t just your average food allergy says allergist Jacqueline Eghrari-Sabet MD – a spokeswoman for the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology.  “Eating shellfish and sitting there? Nothing. But eating shellfish and exercising? For these people, it’s bad news.”

As you exercise and your heart rate speeds up, your blood starts whizzing through organs much faster than it normally does. With every trip your blood takes to your stomach, it’s picking up more, of say, the peanuts. For those with exercise-induced anaphylaxis, the normal amount of peanut antigens picked up by the blood isn’t enough to bother them. But while exercising, the extra peanuts their blood is picking up causes an allergic reaction.

So next time you are convinced that if you spend even one more minute on the treadmill, you will die? Maybe it’s not all in your head.