At some point in your career, you've probably used an ice pack or heating pad to alleviate post-rehearsal aches and pains. But some popular new therapies take these temperature-based recovery practices to extremes.
Could cranking up the intensity equal better results?
The treatment: Two to four minutes in an upright chamber cooled to -200 to -300 degrees Fahrenheit.
The science: Research on promises like soreness prevention is still preliminary. Jessica Davis, physical therapist and owner of Perform Physio, LLC, says a study done on rats showed potential improvements in the anti-inflammatory response and cell viability, which could speed up the healing process. However, Dr. Elizabeth Barchi, a sports medicine specialist at NYU Langone's Harkness Center for Dance Injuries, says that other studies show placebos to be just as effective.
The conclusion: Considering the expense ($45 to $100 per session), Davis recommends saving cryotherapy for peak periods when you're working your body to the max.
The treatment: Patients strap on a device that combines cold therapy with compression.
The science: After the treatment, Davis says, "you get this rush of blood bathing that area with all the healing agents." She's found it particularly helpful in treating patients post-operatively or who've suffered acute injuries. Yet although the well-known RICE—rest, ice, compression, elevation—method seems like tried-and-true wisdom, Barchi notes that scientific studies don't back up any miracle benefits.
Conclusion: Barchi recommends ice and compression for pain management. "Do what feels better," she says. However, you don't need to invest in fancy equipment. A combination of ice packs and compression garments should be enough to manage day-to-day aches and pains.
The treatment: Rather than heating the air through hot-water vapors like a traditional sauna, an infrared sauna heats the body through infrared waves, which can produce similar results at lower temperatures and with less discomfort.
The science: Heat therapies work by increasing circulation, which removes waste products caused by the muscle repair process. Yet Barchi points out that the body's best circulation booster is an activity-based warm-up like jogging. However, if you're injured and unable to complete a full-body workout, heat can help get the blood moving. Davis notes there may even be a conditioning benefit in increasing heart rate through an infrared sauna, but certainly not enough to replace exercise.
Conclusion: The best reason to spend money on a sauna, infrared or otherwise, may just be to relax. "Heat is shown to reduce joint and muscle stiffness," says Davis.
Heat with Vibration
The treatment: This therapy ranges from whole-body vibrating platforms placed in saunas to smaller units targeting the lower back and feet. Providers claim everything from enhanced athletic performance to improved mood.
The science: Increasing blood flow this way can potentially help muscles heal faster, says Barchi. Additionally, Davis notes a 2018 study found that vibration therapy performed prior to resistance training led to a decreased perception of muscle pain post-exercise.
Conclusion: Both experts agree it's worth a shot to decrease general muscle soreness.