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Contrast Therapy

A contrast bath is a type of therapy that involves taking baths in warm and cold water. You alternate the hot and cold baths in sessions. This technique may help to improve blood circulation throughout your body
Ice pack and heating pads are familiar rehabilitation tools, but many people have never heard of therapeutic contrasting, This therapy is more than 2,000 years old, quickly changing tissue temperature from hot to cold and back again. This is usually achieved with hot and cold water, either dunking a limb or even immersing the whole body. The technique is most familiar to serious athletes, who believe  that it helps them get back in the game quicker.

How Contrast Bath Therapy Works

The process of a contrast bath is a form of hydrotherapy that involves repeatedly dipping a limb in hot and cold water. This gets done at a specific rate, temperature, and time. The repeated switching between the two temperatures may cause constricting and dilating of blood vessels, leading to a pump effect. This is believed by to increase circulation into tissues throughout your body.

Also, the increase in blood flow may lead to oxygenation of blood (improving the healing process). It may also improve the transport of waste products (solving edema). More oxygenation occurs due to the hot water. Hot water is thought by some researchers to cause your hemoglobin (a protein in your blood involved in transporting oxygen) to get oxygen more efficiently into your tissues.

What Are The Health Benefits Of Combining Hot And Cold Water Therapy?

Many athletes claim contrast hydrotherapy alleviates their post-game and training fatigue. A 2017 meta-analysis of research studies on contrast bathing found team sports players who followed a routine of alternating hot and cold baths recovered from their fatigue in only 24-48 hours after their game or training session. However, immersion in cold water alone didn’t deliver the same active recovery benefits.

Exercise-induced muscle damage is no joke, and one of the best physical therapy measures for recovering afterward is contrast water therapy.

Feeling sore a couple of days after intense exercise is known as delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). To help with this, ice-cold baths following a hot tub plunge or hot sauna session can improve blood circulation, reducing DOMS.

Researchers who measured DOMS effects in elite athletes after they performed strenuous workouts found contrast bath therapy helped alleviate the severity of their delayed onset muscle soreness, along with the associated weakness. It was also found to be more effective than passive recovery alone.

Intense exercise causes muscle damage at the fiber level, causing deep pain and stiffness, increasing the possibility of pulling a muscle or joint injury. Part of the DOMS recovery process involves pain management when the body is trying to heal the damaged muscle tissue.

Strenuous exercise causes a build-up of lactic acid in the body. While this lactic acid accumulation is normal, it can result in having chronically sore and tired muscles. The effects of excess lactic acid can be remedied by resting, drinking water, taking magnesium supplements, and implementing a regular contrast therapy routine.

Two research studies in 2007 found that contrast therapy helps decrease lactic acid levels in the body after working out intensely, helping athletes recover from their soreness and fatigue following the strenuous exercise much better than using passive recovery techniques like resting alone.

By switching from sitting in a hot sauna or hot tub to taking a cold water plunge, your body triggers the lymphatic system to start working overtime. The system quickly starts flushing away any harmful toxins you may have in your system, along with helping to promote the regeneration of healthy cells throughout your entire body.

By cycling between hot and cold environments, your body naturally increases blood flow by the pumping action caused by alternating between constriction and dilation of blood vessels. This pumping action improves vascular and cardiac response and overall health.

When you have muscles and joints that have suffered injuries, your body’s response is to flood the injured areas with a tide of restorative fluids and white blood cells. But while these fluids are necessary, they can build up to levels that create more pressure on the injury, causing you painful swelling and joint stiffness.

Based on evidence from a 2016 study involving 115 people with ankle sprains, contrast hydrotherapy could help you with pain relief from sports injuries. In the study, contrast water therapy lessened swelling for participants in only three days post-injury on average.

In a study conducted by the University of Eastern Finland over 20-years with more than 2,300 participants, Dr. Jari Laukkanen and colleagues found that using a sauna regularly for 4-7 times per week at 176 degrees F for 19 minutes lowered the risk for Alzheimer’s disease, along with Dementia. Keep in mind, this 20-year study used hot saunas, not hot tubs that could be used in contrast hydrotherapy. 

When skin temperature drops during the cold phase of contrast therapy, skin pores minimize, slowing blemish-causing oil production. This process helps reduce the occurrence of acne, pimples, and blackheads. When blemishes are on the skin, contrast therapy helps reduce swelling and redness, providing soothing relief for irritated skin.