3 Reasons Why Icing Knees After Basketball Is Good (According To Science)

Written By on November 29, 2022 — Medically Reviewed By Mitch Torres (PT)

Written by on — Medically Reviewed By: Mitch Torres (PT)

Icing knees after basketball can help limit post-game pain and swelling. It can also decrease muscle soreness, among other benefits.

That’s why even the best NBA players wrap their knees with ice after a game. But to do it right, you must know the science behind it and for how long it should be done. That’s what this article is for!

Just tap on any of the links below to easily navigate through the contents:

3 benefits of icing your knees after basketball

The following are why it’s so common to see basketball players apply ice immediately after a game:

1) It’s great for reducing knee pain

Cold therapy works by decreasing the nerve signals around your target area, which can reduce pain. (1) This is also why you’ll feel some numbness after applying ice.



Some degree of soreness is natural after a game. But if it happens frequently or it turns into pain, you may have a knee injury that should be checked.

Related: 5 common basketball knee injuries.

2) Has an anti-swelling effect

Icing also has a constricting effect on your blood vessels, which in turn limits the fluids in this area. This ultimately helps reduce swelling quickly. (2)

3) Helps you perform better in your next game

DOMS is an acronym for Delayed-Onset Muscle Soreness. This is the fancy term for that nagging muscle pain after a demanding bout of physical activity. (3)

But you can reduce it and maybe even avoid it by applying cold therapy after the game. This in turn will help you feel way less sore for your next game.

How can you apply ice on your knees after basketball?

Placing an ice/cold pack on your knee is probably the most common option to do cold therapy after a basketball game, but other options include:

Wearing a thermal knee sleeve

This is a knee sleeve that doubles as a hot/cold pack. You just slip it on and you’re good to go, no wet mess. You’ll continue recovering even while walking/driving home after the game.

Our recommendation: The Cocoon Knee Flex Pro (full review).

An ice bath is another option if you have time to spare.

Research shows that ice baths cool the area twice as fast as other treatments. Probably due to having more skin contact around your body. (4)

The downside is that it can be messy and not pleasant for most people.

Disadvantages of using ice therapy after playing basketball

As helpful as it can be, ice therapy may have some disadvantages:

It can cause certain complications.

These often happen to people who apply cold therapy for long periods. The most common complications include (5):

  • Skin allergies.
  • Nerve damage.
  • Frostbite.

To prevent them, stick to 10-minute applications.

Learn more: What happens if you ice your knee for too long?

It could set back your healing process.

The inflammation you feel after you play basketball is your body’s natural response to strenuous physical activity. It brings healing cells to the muscles and joints you used during the game, repairing them.

Consistently toning down this natural process with ice could delay your healing. A solution is to use ice for particularly strenuous games. For those easier matches, check the options discussed further down.

It can mask knee injuries

As ice numbs the area and reduces pain, it can conceal symptoms of an already existing knee injury. This could lead to more serious joint problems, such as:

  • Bone spurs.
  • Jumper’s knee.
  • Osteoarthritis.

A warning sign is if you’re feeling pain consistently while playing. If this is you, please get checked with your doctor or physical therapist.

Related: What causes knee pain after playing basketball?

Other treatments basketball players can do to recover after a game

Cold therapy is one of many options for post-game recovery. Consider adding the following to your routine as well:

Massage therapy

Who doesn’t like a good massage after a hard-fought game, right?

Not only does it feel good, but a good massage is also beneficial in improving blood flow and muscle soreness. These are key for optimal recovery. (6)

An easy way to do this is by using self-massage tools. like foam rollers or massage balls. They’re inexpensive and extremely convenient.

Stretch it out

Stretching is probably the most common way to cool down after each game, and for a reason.

It’s effective in reducing post-exercise muscle soreness. (7) Stretching is also very easy to do, doesn’t take up a lot of time, and no fancy equipment is necessary to perform properly.

Try it: The only 5 knee stretches any basketball player needs.

Stay hydrated during the game

You can reduce your need for pain-management treatments after a game just by staying hydrated while you play.

Studies show that as much as 4% of an athlete’s body weight is lost due to sweat and dehydration during a game. This leads to more fatigue, forcing your muscles to work harder in the first place. Not to mention poor decision-making and slow response time. (8)

So, make sure to rehydrate during and even after each game to stay in tip-top shape. Opt for an electrolyte-filled sports drink to replenish lost nutrients.

FAQs

Should I ice my knees after playing basketball?

You should ice your knees after playing basketball, more so if you had a strenuous game. Otherwise, stretching may be enough.

How long should you ice your knees after basketball?

You should ice your knees after basketball for around 10 minutes every hour or two. (5)

Learn more: How long to ice your knees after basketball.

Is icing after basketball good?

Yes, icing after basketball is a good way to limit joint pain, soreness, and swelling that can occur with each game.

Conclusion: Why do basketball players ice their knees after a game?

Applying an ice pack right after each game minimizes post-game aches and pains to help your knees recover quickly.

But that’s not all you can do. Getting a massage, doing some stretches and staying hydrated are other recovery options you can try during your recovery.



Resources

  1. Malanga, Gerard A et al. “Mechanisms and efficacy of heat and cold therapies for musculoskeletal injury.” Postgraduate medicine vol. 127,1 (2015): 57-65. DOI: 10.1080/00325481.2015.992719
  2. Behrens, Barbara J et al. “Physical Agents: Theory and Practice.” F. A. Davis Company, Jul 11, 2005. https://books.google.com.ph/books?id=ndjaAAAAQBAJ&source=gbs_book_similarbooks
  3. Cheung, Karoline et al. “Delayed onset muscle soreness: treatment strategies and performance factors.” Sports medicine (Auckland, N.Z.) vol. 33,2 (2003): 145-64. DOI: 10.2165/00007256-200333020-00005
  4. Zhang, Yang et al. “Optimizing Cold Water Immersion for Exercise-Induced Hyperthermia: A Meta-analysis.” Medicine and science in sports and exercise vol. 47,11 (2015): 2464-72. DOI: 10.1249/MSS.0000000000000693
  5. Kuo, Chia-Chi et al. “Comparing the anti-swelling and analgesic effects of three different ice pack therapy durations: a randomized controlled trial on cases with soft tissue injuries.” The journal of nursing research: JNR vol. 21,3 (2013): 186-94. DOI: 10.1097/jnr.0b013e3182a0af12
  6. Sriwongtong, Michelle et al. “Does Massage Help Athletes After Exercise?.” The Ochsner journal vol. 20,2 (2020): 121-122. doi: 10.31486/toj.20.0008
  7. McNeal, Jeni R, and William A Sands. “Stretching for performance enhancement.” Current sports medicine reports vol. 5,3 (2006): 141-6. DOI: 10.1097/01.csmr.0000306304.25944.07
  8. Baker, Lindsay B et al. “Progressive dehydration causes a progressive decline in basketball skill performance.” Medicine and science in sports and exercise vol. 39,7 (2007): 1114-23. DOI: 10.1249/mss.0b013e3180574b02
Author
Paolo Sarmiento (PT)
Paolo is a physical therapist, educator and fitness enthusiast. He shares his knowledge and experience in helping people deal with health issues, especially with the knee. As health-conscious as he can be, he enjoys long bicycle rides, early morning runs, and a good slice of pizza with extra pepperoni.