from September 2004
Squash can be a painful game.
For the social player an occasional game of squash usually results
in a very sore butt & hamstrings. The only consolation is that even
the pros suffer the same aches and pains when they first get back on
court after a bit of a lay off. The same happens during tournaments
where physical effort is usually much greater than during training
and of course the more successful the player & the further they get
in the tournament, the more likely it is that they will suffer from
post exercise soreness.
AVOIDING THE 'DOMS'
So how can this “delayed onset muscle soreness
” or DOMS as it is known be avoided or minimised? Well
one remedy that an increasing number of athletes from many different
sports are turning to are ice baths.
Paula Radcliffe is allegedly a devotee as are many of the
current England Rugby Union squad. Quite a few squash players are
also among this intrepid group. Those that are brave enough to take
the icy plunge, quickly become ice bath aficionados and extol their
benefits as regards reducing DOMS and preparing themselves for
Simon Parke was the first squash player that I came across
who regularly jumped into a bath of ice cold water following a tough
match. Now a number of the touring pros have taken a leaf out of
Parkeys book and routinely order bags of ice from their hotel room
service in order to take the cold plunge after tough matches.
So what are the cold baths supposed to do and how long do you have
to stay in one?
There is no hard scientific evidence to back up the use of ice
immersion following exercise & consequently no definitive guides
exist as to how often to use them or how long to stay in them.
However, most people who try them, feel benefits in terms of less
DOMS & improved physical recovery rates.
The current consensus seems to point to periods of between 5 & 10
minutes per immersion. The first couple of minutes in the ice bath
are usually the worst as far as discomfort is concerned. Novices may
only be able to tolerate a minute or two initially. However, with
practice the discomfort subsides & subsequent cold dunkings are
The use of ice immersion is justified by the hypothesis that hard
physical activity causes microscopic muscle & soft tissue damage &
that the application of cold helps to minimise the associated
inflammation & pain.
Another theory is that the cold causes the body to shut down the
superficial blood vessels and blood is then diverted to the deeper
positioned muscles. This has a “flushing out” effect upon the
muscles and substances such as lactic acid, which builds up in the
muscles following exercise, is removed. It is believed that reducing
post exercise levels of lactic acid helps in recovery & reduces post
exercise stiffness & soreness.
Based on the above couple of hypotheses, it seems logical that only
the muscles that have taken the brunt of exercise need to be
immersed. So a squash player wouldn’t have to go neck deep into the
ice bath. It would also seem logical that the cold immersion should
start as soon as possible after training or playing.
TAKE IT EASY
Care should be taken before
literally plunging into a cold bath. Some people are very sensitive
to extremes of temperature. They may find cold baths too painful or
may go into shock.
The application of cold (particularly ice immersion) should not be
used in the following cases:
• Reduced skin sensitivity to temperature
• High or low blood pressure
• Circulatory problems
• Open wounds / sores
Philip Newton is a Chartered Physiotherapist, Director of the
Lilleshall Sports Injury Rehab Centre, and provides Physio cover to England
players at major squash events around the world.
uses ice baths regularly and makes use of the specialised ice
bath equipment that is available at the English Institute of
Sport in Sheffield.
These baths have in-built thermometers, an agitator to make sure
that the temperature is even & in some cases cold air blowers
just to make sure that the bather stays cold enough!
You can tell by the serene look on Nick's face that he is now an
expert ice bather !