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Hot & Cold Contrast Baths

The extent of bleeding will depend on the tissues' vascularity and may be increased if injured during exercise. 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. Blood will flow until the vessels are restricted (vasoconstriction), preventing further blood from leaking into the tissues. It is vital to stop bleeding into tissues as the blood will act as an irritant, increase inflammation, and be cleared from the tissues before the healing process can properly begin.

Cells starved of nourishment from the blood due to injury will soon die. These dying cells stimulate histamine release, causing the blood vessels to dilate, 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 rapidly, all contributing to the healing process.

Use of contrast baths

All 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 the skin changes colour. The whole process can be repeated three or four times a day.

Contraindications 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, this may indicate other nerve impingement problems. In such instances, ice would only mask this and complicate the issue.
  • Do not apply cold to someone with high blood pressure, as vasoconstriction will increase the vessels' pressure.
  • 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


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

Page Reference

If you quote information from this page in your work, then the reference for this page is:

  • MACKENZIE, B. (2002) Hot and Cold Contrast Baths [WWW] Available from: [Accessed