Key points: Cold water immersion and active recovery are common post-exercise recovery treatments. A key assumption about the benefits of cold water immersion is that it reduces inflammation in skeletal muscle. However, no data are available from humans to support this notion. We compared the effects of cold water immersion and active recovery on inflammatory and cellular stress responses in skeletal muscle from exercise-trained men 2, 24 and 48 h during recovery after acute resistance exercise. Exercise led to the infiltration of inflammatory cells, with increased mRNA expression of pro-inflammatory cytokines and neurotrophins, and the subcellular translocation of heat shock proteins in muscle. These responses did not differ significantly between cold water immersion and active recovery. Our results suggest that cold water immersion is no more effective than active recovery for minimizing the inflammatory and stress responses in muscle after resistance exercise. Abstract: Cold water immersion and active recovery are common post-exercise recovery treatments. However, little is known about whether these treatments influence inflammation and cellular stress in human skeletal muscle after exercise. We compared the effects of cold water immersion versus active recovery on inflammatory cells, pro-inflammatory cytokines, neurotrophins and heat shock proteins (HSPs) in skeletal muscle after intense resistance exercise. Nine active men performed unilateral lower-body resistance exercise on separate days, at least 1 week apart. On one day, they immersed their lower body in cold water (10°C) for 10 min after exercise. On the other day, they cycled at a low intensity for 10 min after exercise. Muscle biopsies were collected from the exercised leg before, 2, 24 and 48 h after exercise in both trials. Exercise increased intramuscular neutrophil and macrophage counts, MAC1 and CD163 mRNA expression (P < 0.05). Exercise also increased IL1β, TNF, IL6, CCL2, CCL4, CXCL2, IL8 and LIF mRNA expression (P < 0.05). As evidence of hyperalgesia, the expression of NGF and GDNF mRNA increased after exercise (P < 0.05). The cytosolic protein content of αB-crystallin and HSP70 decreased after exercise (P < 0.05). This response was accompanied by increases in the cytoskeletal protein content of αB-crystallin and the percentage of type II fibres stained for αB-crystallin. Changes in inflammatory cells, cytokines, neurotrophins and HSPs did not differ significantly between the recovery treatments. These findings indicate that cold water immersion is no more effective than active recovery for reducing inflammation or cellular stress in muscle after a bout of resistance exercise.
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