Effects of Cold-Water Immersion Compared with Other Recovery Modalities on Athletic Performance Following Acute Strenuous Exercise in Physically Active Participants: A Systematic Review, Meta-Analysis, and Meta-Regression

Sports Med. 2023 Mar;53(3):687-705. doi: 10.1007/s40279-022-01800-1. Epub 2022 Dec 17.


Background: Studies investigating the effects of common recovery modalities following acute strenuous exercise have reported mixed results.

Objectives: This systematic review with meta-analysis and meta-regression compared the effects of cold-water immersion (CWI) against other common recovery modalities on recovery of athletic performance, perceptual outcomes, and creatine kinase (CK) following acute strenuous exercise in physically active populations.

Study design: Systematic review, meta-analysis, and meta-regression.

Methods: The MEDLINE, SPORTDiscus, Scopus, Web of Science, Cochrane Library, EmCare, and Embase databases were searched up until September 2022. Studies were included if they were peer reviewed, published in English, included participants who were involved in sport or deemed physically active, compared CWI with other recovery modalities following an acute bout of strenuous exercise, and included measures of performance, perceptual measures of recovery, or CK.

Results: Twenty-eight studies were meta-analysed. CWI was superior to other recovery methods for recovering from muscle soreness, and similar to other methods for recovery of muscular power and flexibility. CWI was more effective than active recovery, contrast water therapy and warm-water immersion for most recovery outcomes. Air cryotherapy was significantly more effective than CWI for the promotion of recovery of muscular strength and the immediate recovery of muscular power (1-h post-exercise). Meta-regression revealed that water temperature and exposure duration were rarely exposure moderators.

Conclusion: CWI is effective for promoting recovery from acute strenuous exercise in physically active populations compared with other common recovery methods.

Protocol registration: Open Science Framework: https://doi.org/10.17605/OSF.IO/NGP7C.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Athletic Performance*
  • Cold Temperature*
  • Creatine Kinase
  • Humans
  • Immersion
  • Myalgia / therapy
  • Water


  • Water
  • Creatine Kinase