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Hot & Cold Contrast Baths

In many instances, no matter how small the injury, tissues will have either been stretched or an impact received causing blood vessels to be torn or damaged. The extent of bleeding will depend on the vascularity of the tissues involved, and may be increased if injured during exercise. Blood will flow out until the vessels are restricted (vasoconstriction), so preventing further blood leaking into the tissues. It is important to stop bleeding into tissues as the blood will act as an irritant, increase inflammation, and must be cleared from the tissues before the healing process can properly commence.

Cells starved of nourishment from the blood due to injury will soon die. These dying cells stimulate the release of histamine causing the blood vessels to dilate, thereby bringing increased blood supply and extra nutrients to help repair and rebuild the damaged tissues. During this phase of increased but slower and more viscous blood supply, the capillary walls become much more permeable and quantities of protein and inflammatory substances are pushed into the area causing swelling. Various reactions continue at a rapid rate, all contributing to the healing process.

Use of contrast baths

All that you require is two bowls of water, one iced and the other as hot as you can bear, and a few towels. Alternatively, you can purchase specially made hot and cold packs but you must remember to protect the skin when you use these packs. The use of contrast baths is as follows:

  • Dip the injured limb into one bowl for a few seconds
  • Remove the limb from the bowl and dab it dry
  • Dip the limb into the other bowl for a few seconds
  • Remove the limb from the bowl and dab it dry

Repeat this process for about ten minutes until you see the skin change colour. The whole process can be repeated three or four times a day.

Contra indications of using contrast baths

  • Check a person's general sensitivity to ice - some people find the application of cold immediately painful
  • Always check skin sensitivity before applying ice - if a person cannot feel touch before applying ice then this may indicate other problems such as nerve impingement. In such instances, ice would only serve to mask this and complicate the problem.
  • Do not apply cold to someone with high blood pressure, as vasoconstriction will increase the pressure within the vessels.
  • Do not use contrast baths with someone who has circulatory problems
  • Do not use contrast baths if the skin is sore or broken in the injured area

Education

It is important to educate anyone managing injuries including athletes themselves on at least the basic use of Ice (Cryotherapy) or contrast baths on acute injuries - early treatment is essential.


Related References

The following references provide additional information on this topic:

  • COCHRANE, D. J. (2004) Alternating hot and cold water immersion for athlete recovery: a review. Physical Therapy in Sport, 5 (1), p. 26-32
  • WILCOCK, I. M. et al. (2006) Physiological response to water immersion. Sports Medicine,& 36 (9), p. 747-765
  • BREGER STANTON, D. E. et al. (2009) A systematic review of the effectiveness of contrast baths. Journal of Hand Therapy, 22 (1), p. 57-70

Page Reference

The reference for this page is:

  • MACKENZIE, B. (2002) Hot and Cold Contrast Baths [WWW] Available from: http://www.brianmac.co.uk/hcbaths.htm [Accessed

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