Contrast bath therapy is use to help decrease pain and muscle spasm, increase range of motion and strength, and improve functional mobility. It is a form of treatment where a limb or the entire body is immerse in hot (but not boiling) water followed by the immediate immersion of the limb or body in cold ice water. This procedure is repeated several times, alternating hot and cold.
The theory behind contrast bath therapy is that the hot water causes vasodilation (widening of blood vessels) of the blood flow in the limb or body followed by the cold water which causes vasoconstriction (narrowing of the blood vessels), increasing local blood circulation.
Contrast bathing can be use to reduce swelling around injuries or to aid recovery from exercise. It can also significantly improve muscle recovery following exercise by reducing the levels of blood lactate concentration. For any injury presenting with palpable swelling and heat. And visible redness – such as a strain/sprain – contrast baths are contraindicating during the acute inflammation stage. Acute inflammation begins at the time of injury and lasts for approximately 72 hours.
Additionally, the lymph vessels contract when exposed to cold, and relax in response to heat. The lymph system, unlike the circulatory system, lacks a central pump. By alternating hot and cold, it is believe that lymph vessels dilate and contract to “pump”. And move stagnant fluid out of the injured area and that this positively affects the inflammation process. Which is the body’s primary mechanism for healing damaged tissue.
Contrast baths carry no risk when performed correctly. The main risks are the burns from water that is too hot or skin damage from water that is too cold. Ensuring that the water you use for contrast baths is the correct temperature is the best way to mitigate these risks.