Contrast bath therapy

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Contrast bath therapy, also known as "hot/cold immersion therapy", is a form of treatment where a limb or the entire body is immersed in ice water followed by the immediate immersion of the limb or body in warm water.[1] This procedure is repeated several times, alternating hot and cold.


The theory behind contrast bath therapy is that the warm water causes vasodilation of the blood flow in the limb or body followed by the cold water which causes vasoconstriction, increasing local blood circulation. 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. Alternating hot and cold, lymph vessels dilate and contract to essentially "pump" and move stagnant fluid out of the area. This positively affects the inflammation process, which is the body's primary mechanism for healing damaged tissue. One study[2] showed that fluctuations in intramuscular temperature were lower than those caused by a hot bath alone.

Other studies indicate that thermal stress seems to positively influence the immune system.[3][4]


Contrast bathing can be used 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 (Contrast bathing - a brief summary of evidences) For any injury presenting with palpable swelling and heat, and visible redness - such as a strain/sprain - contrast baths are contraindicated during the acute inflammation stage. Acute inflammation begins at the time of injury and lasts for approximately 72 hours.

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