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Effects of Cold Water Immersion and Contrast Water Therapy for Recovery From Team Sport: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis

Higgins, Trevor R.1,2; Greene, David A.1; Baker, Michael K.1

Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research: May 2017 - Volume 31 - Issue 5 - p 1443–1460
doi: 10.1519/JSC.0000000000001559
Brief Review

Abstract: Higgins, TR, Greene, DA, Baker, MK. Effects of cold water immersion and contrast water therapy for recovery from team sport: a systematic review and meta-analysis. J Strength Cond Res 31(5): 1443–1460, 2017—To enhance recovery from sport, cold water immersion (CWI) and contrast water therapy (CWT) have become common practice within high level team sport. Initially, athletes relied solely on anecdotal support. As there has been an increase in the volume of research into recovery including a number of general reviews, an opportunity existed to narrow the focus specifically examining the use of hydrotherapy for recovery in team sport. A Boolean logic [AND] keyword search of databases was conducted: SPORTDiscus; AMED; CINAHL; MEDLINE. Data were extracted and the standardized mean differences were calculated with 95% confidence interval (CI). The analysis of pooled data was conducted using a random-effect model, with heterogeneity assessed using I2. Twenty-three peer reviewed articles (n = 606) met the criteria. Meta-analyses results indicated CWI was beneficial for recovery at 24 hours (countermovement jump: p = 0.05, CI: −0.004 to 0.578; All-out sprint: p = 0.02, −0.056 to 0.801) following team sport. The CWI was beneficial for recovery at 72 hours (fatigue: p = 0.03, CI: 0.061–1.418) and CWT was beneficial for recovery at 48 hours (fatigue: p = 0.04, CI: 0.013–0.942) following team sport. The CWI was beneficial for neuromuscular recovery 24 hours following team sport, whereas CWT was not beneficial for recovery following team sport. In addition, when evaluating accumulated sprinting, CWI was not beneficial for recovery following team sports. In evaluating subjective measures, both CWI (72 hours) and CWT (24 hours) were beneficial for recovery of perceptions of fatigue, following team sport. However neither CWI nor CWT was beneficial for recovery, of perceptions of muscle soreness, following team sport.

1School of Exercise Science, Australian Catholic University, Sydney, Australia; and

2Department of Sport Performance, Australian College of Physical Education, Sydney, Australia

Address correspondence to Trevor R. Higgins,

Copyright © 2017 by the National Strength & Conditioning Association.