Effects of cold water immersion on the recovery of physical performance and muscle damage following a one-off soccer match

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Sø 2. Physioblog Andreas Bjerregaard 3.Søernesfysioterapi

– Journal of Sports Sciences, February 1st 2011; 29(3): 217–225


The aim of this study was to assess the effects of a single session of cold or thermoneutral water immersion after a one-off match on muscular dysfunction and damage in soccer players.


20 male junior soccer players completed one match and were randomly divided into to groups

  • cryotherapy (10 min cold water immersion, 10C, n = 10)
  • thermoneutral (10 min thermoneutral water immersion, 35C, n = 10)

Muscle damage (creatine kinase, myoglobin), inflammation (C-reactive protein), neuromuscular function (jump and sprint abilities and maximal isometric quadriceps strength), and delayed-onset muscle soreness were evaluated before, within 30 min of the end, and 24 and 48 h after the match.

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Immediately after the match players from the cryotherapy group fully submerged their lower limbs to the iliac crest in a stirred cold water bath 10C for 10 min. and the thermoneutral group fully immersing their low- er limbs in a water bath at a mean temperature of 35C.

Delayed-onset muscle soreness

Within 30 min, 24h and 48 h after the match, each participant was asked to complete a muscle soreness questionnaire for quadriceps, harm- strings, calf, and hip adductor muscles, in which they rated their perceived muscle soreness on a scale from 0 (‘‘absence of soreness’’) to 10 (‘‘very intense soreness’’).

Blood sampling and preparations

All venous blood samples were taken for later biochemical analysis of myoglobin, creatine kinase, and C-reactive protein.

Performance tests
Jumping test and sprint ability (0-20m) were measured.
Maximal voluntary isometric of the quadriceps with knees positioned at 90* of flexion was measured using an isometric loading.


After the match, the players in both groups showed

  • increased plasma creatine kinase activity (30 min, 24 h, 48 h), myoglobin (30 min) and C-reactive protein (30 min, 24 h) concentrations.
  • Peak jump ability and maximal strength were decreased and delayed-onset muscle soreness increased in both groups.
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However, differential alterations were observed between thermoneutral water and cold water immersion groups in creatine kinase (30 min, 24 h, 48 h), myoglobin (30 min), C-reactive protein (30 min, 24 h, 48 h), quadriceps strength (24 h), and delayed-onset muscle soreness in quadriceps (24 h), calf (24 h) and adductor (30 min) .

Performance tests

  • No significant differences were observed between groups in countermovement jump performance at any time point. Furthermore, sprint ability was not affected during the recovery and no differences were observed between treatment groups.
  • Significant decreases in peak quadriceps strength were observed in the thermoneutral water immersion groupat24hand48handinthecoldwater immersion group at 48 h.        However, quadriceps strength was significantly greater at 24 h in the cold water than in the thermoneutral water immersion group (P 5 0.05).

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Delayed-onset muscle soreness

Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness peaked at 30 min and again at 24 h for quadriceps, hamstrings, and calf. Cryotherapy only reduced the ratings of perceived soreness at 24 h for quadriceps and calf, and at 30 min for the adductor muscles.

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The main findings were that the players who underwent cold water immersion immediately after the match reported lower perceived muscle soreness in the quadriceps and calf at 24 h and hip adductor. The results therefor suggest that cold water immersion immediately after a one-off soccer match reduces muscle damage and discomfort, possibly contributing to a faster recovery of neuromuscular function.

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