Acute response to hydrotherapy after a simulated game of rugby
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Despite lacking clear scientific evidence, hydrotherapies (water treatments) are accepted techniques to help team sport athletes recover from the physical effects of games. The purpose of this study was to assess the comparative effectiveness of cold water immersions and hot-and-cold contrast baths on athletes' recovery following a simulated game of rugby union. Twenty-four experienced, well trained, male rugby union players were divided into three groups to receive recovery interventions: cold water immersion for one group, contrast baths for a second group, and passive recovery for a third (control) group. Pre- and post-game measurements included a counter-movement jump (CMJ, normalised as a ratio to body weight), a sit-and-stretch flexibility test (cm), thigh circumference (to detect swelling; cm), as well as participants' perception of delayed-onset muscular soreness (DOMS, 100mm visual analogue scale). Statistical analysis included analysis of variance, as well as the calculation of omnibus effect sizes for each group (ηp2) and the magnitudes of change within and between groups (Cohen's d). Participants in the contrast baths group reported statistically significantly greater measures of DOMS than participants in the control group at one hour post intervention (p=0.05, control group d = 1.80; contrast bath d = 4.75), and than participants in the cold water immersion group at 48 hours post intervention (p=0.02, cold water immersion d = 1.17; contrast bath d = 1.97). These findings provide modest evidence that contrast baths are a less effective strategy for recovery from rugby union than are cold water immersion or passive recovery. Specifically, 2 × 5-minute cold water immersion is superior to both contrasts baths and passive recovery in alleviating DOMS after exercise-induced muscle damage. Our recommendation for rugby union players aiming to attenuate the effects of DOMS post games is to take 2 × 5 minute cold water immersions baths immediately after the game.
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