Do ice baths help recovery from exercise?
When I used to do more running than I currently do, there was a practice amongst many of the people I ran with to hose their legs down after long runs. Although it was somewhat uncomfortable, after experiencing the feeling I was a convert. It cleaned your legs (usually covered with mud and sweat), and felt like it freshened you up. The logic told to me was that it was what was done to top racehorses, so why not humans? I never did find out if this was actually true or not.
A few years later at University I was taught about contrast showers/baths, which basically involved going from very cold (usually less than 10 degrees), to comfortably hot a few times. The idea was it helped recovery. Since then it seems to have become widespread. You have probably seen pictures in newspapers of famous sportsmen in these baths after training sessions.
The benefits though, when studies have been done on this topic, have not been clear cut. An interesting one out recently studied the benefits of ice baths post-exercise to aid in muscle soreness.
It suggests there is in fact no ‘soreness’ benefit from taking these types of baths. That is, the people who took these types of baths showed no benefit over those that didn’t.
Of course, much like stretching and muscle soreness, there may be other benefits that the baths give, but if you are going through all this discomfort (I think anyone who has taken a contrast bath or shower can testify to the fact it is not the most comfortable thing in the world) in the hope you will to not be sore in the following days then you may just be wasting your time.
Also, like stretching, I think it is still a useful tool in athletic performance, just that we may not understand the exact mechanism by which it works.