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The Benefits of Contrast Therapy (aka Hot/Cold Therapy)

So hot and yet so cool! The benefits of contrast therapy are sure to help you heal, recover, and be healthy!

While not a new technique, contrast therapy is something that is a newer concept for most people. Simply, contrast therapy involves going back and forth from hot to cold, typically in water such as a shower or tub. Generally, with contrast therapy, the individual puts their body in warm water for a few minutes, immediately followed by very cold water (ice water) for a couple minutes. This process is then repeated multiple times, going back and forth between the hot and cold, ending with the cold.

When the body is in the warm water, vasodilation occurs causing increased blood flow to the limbs and extremities. The very cold water has the opposite effect, vasoconstriction, which slows blood flow to the extremities and promotes local blood circulation (in the core of the body). Also, the cold water causes contraction of the lymphatic vessels, which then relax when in the heat. Because the lymph system doesn’t have the same pumping action that the circulatory system does, this alternating between contraction and relaxation is effectively a “pump” to help move the lymph fluid efficiently throughout the body. When lymph gets stagnant, that’s when illness can occur, as well as increased inflammation.

This same “pumping” action that happens from alternating between the hot and the cold can be seen in the muscles, where the hot to cold causes the muscles to pump similarly to how they do during light aerobic activity. This is especially beneficial for those who are injured or who are otherwise unable to engage in aerobic activity. Additionally, this “muscle pumping” also helps to remove any metabolic waste products from the muscles and into the bloodstream for excretion.

Contrast therapy is used primarily for athletes and those needing to recover from pain or injury. Contrast therapy includes several primary benefits:

  • Reduced Pain
  • Decreased Swelling
  • Improved Circulation
  • Reduced Inflammation
  • Improvement in Mild Muscle Strains
  • Reduced Post-Exercise Muscle Soreness
  • Faster Recovery after Exercise
  • Increased Energy
  • Increased Alertness
  • Increased Heart Rate (similarly as during aerobic exercise)
  • Elevated Mood

While there aren’t currently an abundance of scientific studies done on contrast therapy, some of the existing research does indicate that contrast therapy also increases glutathione levels. Glutathione is the body’s “master antioxidant,” which helps protect the cells from oxidative damage and helps with a number of key functions in the body.

It’s not advised for those who have open wounds, skin infections, skin problems like eczema, fever or infection, ulcer, metal implants of any kind, or cardiac insufficiency to engage in contrast therapy. Additionally, pregnant women should consult with their physician prior to doing any contrast therapy.

Contrast therapy can be a great addition to those looking to boost overall health, or who need to recover from a workout, or from an injury. It’s important to stay hydrated while engaging in contrast therapy, and it is a good idea to focus on breathing deeply during the therapy. Contrast therapy can be done at training facilities, spas, or other such locations that have hot and cold tubs, or, it can also be simulated in your shower by going back and forth from hot to cold.

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