By Kevin Masson MSc, CSCS, CPT, USAW, FMS
What is contrast wet therapy and how will it benefit my recovery?
Contrast wet therapy also known as “hot/cold immersion therapy”, is a form of treatment where a limb or the entire body is immersed in warm water followed by the immediate immersion of the limb or body in ice water. This procedure is repeated several times, alternating hot and cold. The goals for a Contrast Bath include:
- Decreasing pain
- Decreasing swelling
- Decreasing/controlling inflammation
- Improving mobility
- Improve muscle recovery after exercising
The cold water causes blood vessels to constrict or tighten, thereby reducing inflammation and flushing out the waste products that were accumulated during exercise. Combine this with hot water immersion which rapidly causes dilation or opening of the blood vessels that were constricted during the cold-water therapy.
This contrast in temperature immersion facilitates rapid constriction and dilation of the blood vessels. Typically, in a contrast wet therapy session you would cycle through several cycles of cold followed by warm to create a muscle pump effect via the effect it has on blood vessels.
Contrast wet therapy assist in recovery by alterations in tissue temperature and blood flow; reduced muscle spasm and inflammation; and improved range of motion. In comparison to passive recovery, contrast wet therapy is by far the superior, with studies proving results of significantly greater improvements in muscle soreness (DOMS) and reduced muscle strength loss (Contrast Water Therapy and Exercise Induced Muscle Damage: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis, 2013).
Not only is contrast wet therapy proven to help with muscle soreness from exercise and everyday life it can also help with alleviating pain associated with arthritis and people with poor circulation.
Can I just have a bath of ice and then a warm shower with the same effect?
Yes, you can and it would still be effective in helping reduce muscle fatigue and soreness, however full body water immersion is far greater and will have an impact on the whole body and the added benefits of emotional wellbeing that goes along with it. At BioFit Performance we recommend that you use the contrast bath therapy and infra sauna to ultimately improve recovery.
So, the really important question is, do you finish off with warm or cold?
“There is no evidence to suggest that ending with either heat or cold is more effective” National Athletic Trainers’ Association. The choice is all yours, you can leave feeling warm and fuzzy or cool and invigorated. I would advise, it all depends on when you are doing the therapy. If you are the type of person that like to workout in the morning and want to have a quick relaxing moment in the bath before work then probably end with a cold bath, that way you will feel sharp and ready to deal with your day. On the other end if you want to relax after a long day at the office or a hard workout, end with a nice relaxing hot bath or even warm sauna will leave you a cozy relaxing mood ready for you to go home and relax.
Conditions to watch for:
If you suffer from rheumatoid Arthritis then consider ending with the hot and make sure to dry thoroughly.
Another condition is if you have an acute injury or suffer from a swollen joint, only use the cold immersion on that joint.
CONTRAINDICATIONS FOR CONTRAST BATHS
DO NOT do Contrast Baths for any of the following problems:
- Local malignancies
- Peripheral vascular disease (PVD)
- Impaired sensation
- Bleeding and acute inflammation.
- Diabetes and neuropathy
- If there is a good pulse in the extremities, diabetics and those with neuropathies can benefit from a contrast bath, but it needs to be under the supervision of a physical therapy.
Again, you should consult your physician or physical therapist if you are unsure if this treatment is right for you.
What is the procedure for contrast bath?
- Sit in the hot water (98 -110 degrees Fahrenheit) for 3-4 mins. (If swelling is present around the joint use only cold bath.)
- Once you had a good 3 mins in the hot bath switch to the cold water (45 – 70 degrees Fahrenheit) for 1 minute or until you cannot tolerate it anymore.
- Repeat the above steps three to four more times (about 20 minutes)
US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health. 2013. Contrast Water Therapy and Exercise Induced Muscle Damage: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3633882/. [Accessed 21 February 2017].
National Athletic Trainers’ Association. 1998. Contrast Therapy Does Not Cause Fluctuations in Human Gastrocnemius Intramuscular Temperature. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1320584/pdf/jathtrain00012-0042.pdf. [Accessed 21 February 2017].