Hot And Cold Therapy For Recovery: What You Need To Know

Hot And Cold Therapy For Recovery: What You Need To Know

There are countless resources out there advocating for either hot therapy or cold therapy as the best recovery method but, what if you want to use both? We say go for it!

While hot therapy and cold therapy both work individually for recovery, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all that works best for everyone. So, by using both hot and cold therapy (aka contrast therapy) you can reap maximum recovery benefits.

If you’re eager to learn more about contrast therapy, keep reading to see if it’s the right method for you!

Hot and Cold Therapy (aka Contrast Therapy)

What Is Hot And Cold Therapy, And How Does It Work

While everyone does hot and cold therapy differently, we’ll give you a broad overview and try to cover all the bases. Hot and cold therapy, aka contrast therapy, involves alternating between hot and cold applications on a certain area of the body to improve well-being while aiding in recovery.

There are many different ways to do hot and cold therapy. You can alternate between hot and cold showers, between a sauna and an ice bath, or use a hot pack followed by a cold pack to name a few methods.

Some people alternate between ice and heat treatments every few minutes, while others alternate between treatments several times a day. You have to find what works best for you and your needs but to start, consider alternating every few minutes for a set amount of time.

It’s also recommended to start and end with cold treatment, especially if you are concerned with inflammation and swelling. On the other hand, some people choose to end with heat to complete treatment on a more “relaxing” note. Again, experiment and find what works best for your situation.

The Benefits Of Hot and Cold Therapy

Contrast therapy provides the best benefits of both hot and cold therapy including its ability to:

  • Relieve pain in muscles and joints
  • Improve circulation
  • Reduce inflammation & swelling
  • Speed healing & recovery
  • Boost energy levels & mood
  • Improve mental clarity & alertness
  • Increase motion range

Why Alternate Hot And Cold Therapy?

For some people, heat works better, and for others it's cold. But, sometimes the best option is to take advantage of both especially if they both work well for you individually. You don’t want to stick to one and risk missing out on the potential benefits of the other.

Used together, hot and cold therapy can help your body recover and treat various injuries and conditions including the benefits mentioned above.

How To Do Hot And Cold Therapy Step-By-Step

There isn't necessarily one right way to do contrast therapy since everyone has different needs. Ultimately, it's up to you to experiment and see what works best for you.

Here’s a simple step-by-step guide to help you get started in your contrast therapy journey. Once you get more comfortable with the process, feel free to experiment to find your winning combination.

In this example, we’ll start with a simple contrast bath for small areas (such as your hands or feet) so you can practice before plunging into different methods. If your whole body needs some contrast therapy consider alternating between hot and cold showers or a sauna and an ice bath.

Step-by-step guide to contrast therapy:

  1. Grab 2 bowls/containers big enough to fit the limb(s) you want to soak.
  2. Fill one bowl with the hottest water you can handle and fill the other with the coldest water you can handle.
  3. Soak the limb(s) in the hot water for 5 minutes then immediately soak your limb(s) in the cold water for 5 minutes.
  4. Refresh the hot water and repeat Step 3.
  5. Refresh the hot water and place a small hand towel (or 2 if needed) in the cold water (you will use this in step #7).
  6. Soak your limb(s) in the hot water for 1 minute.
  7. Remove your limb(s) from the hot water then wrap it in the cold-soaked towel until the towel reaches body temperature.

Tips To Maximize The Effectiveness Of Hot And Cold Therapy

Contrast therapy is pretty straightforward but the following tips can help you increase its effectiveness and your overall enjoyment.

  • Experiment with different application methods, application times, and areas of application to find what works best for you. Try to switch one variable at a time so you can pinpoint specifically what works.
  • Stay hydrated and drink plenty of water before and after treatment.
  • Only use the hottest and coldest temperatures you can personally handle and work your way up (or down) later using incremental changes.
  • If you want to stretch, stretch your muscles during the heat portion.
  • Learn breathwork for the cold therapy portion.
  • Last but not least, listen to your body.

Cold Therapy

Cold therapy, as the name suggests, involves using cold treatments to treat pains and injuries and is most often used to reduce swelling and inflammation.

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Types of Cold Therapy

Various application methods for cold therapy are available depending on your needs.

Localized Cold Therapy

Localized cold therapy (aka cryotherapy) uses ice packs or devices that cool specific body areas and can numb an area before surgery or reduce pain and swelling. You can also use cold therapy to relieve muscle pain, spasms, and inflammation.

The most common method of localized cold therapy is using an ice pack. Ice packs are available in different sizes and shapes and wrapped around the affected area. Another type of localized cold therapy is cryotherapy devices that cool the skin with a stream of pressurized air or liquid nitrogen.

Physical therapists and other healthcare providers often use special localized cold therapy methods and devices. One type of method, air-cooled, uses a stream of pressurized air to cool the skin. A different kind of device, known as a liquid nitrogen–cooled device, uses liquid nitrogen to cool the skin.

Total Body Immersion

Total body immersion involves emerging or exposing the entire body to cold which is ideal for athletes and gym enthusiasts for physical recovery.

The most effective and popular method is an ice bath, a process of plunging yourself into cold water between 39 to 59 degrees Fahrenheit. Ice baths can soothe sore muscles, reduce inflammation and swelling, boost your immune system, improve your sleep, and support weight loss to name a few.

When Not To Use Cold Therapy

While cold therapy can be effective for some conditions, there are also some situations where it’s not recommended. For example, you should not use cold therapy on open wounds or skin that is already cold to the touch, as this can further damage the tissue.

In addition, people with diabetes or circulatory problems should use cold therapy with caution, as they may be more susceptible to cold-related injuries. Cold therapy can also aggravate some medical conditions, such as migraines and cold sores. So, if you’re feeling unwell or have any of the above conditions, play it safe and wait until you’re better to try cold therapy.

Heat Therapy

Heat therapy, also known as thermotherapy, uses heat to treat pain and other medical conditions.

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Types Of Heat Therapy

There are a variety of heat therapy methods depending on your goals and personal needs.

Local Application Of Heat

The application of heat can be helpful in the treatment of muscle aches, tension headaches, arthritis, and menstrual cramps. It can also improve blood circulation and loosen tight muscles. Heat therapy can be applied using hot packs, water bottles, or electric blankets. In some cases, you could also use infrared light.

Total Body Immersion

Total body hot water immersion involves sitting in a tub of warm/hot water for 20-30 minutes or using a sauna. The water should be at a temperature that is comfortable for you to maintain without feeling too hot. Total body immersion provides many health benefits, including relief from muscle pain, improved circulation, and reduced stress levels. In addition, whole body immersion can also help to enhance the quality of sleep and promote relaxation.

When Not To Use Hot Therapy

There are some situations where it is not advisable to use hot therapy. For example, hot treatment can worsen open wounds or burns. If you have a fever, hot treatments can cause it to rise further. Finally, if you have diabetes or poor circulation, hot therapy can cause more problems. If you are unsure whether or not hot therapy is right for you, it is always best to speak to a doctor or other healthcare professional before starting.

Upgrade Your At-Home Recovery Routine

If you’re ready to take the plunge into an effective hot and cold therapy treatment, consider getting a revolutionary ice bath tub, aka the Plunge, for at-home cold therapy. Pair the Plunge with a hot shower for effective and efficient contrast therapy sessions or use the tub on its own to elevate your at-home recovery routine.

The longer you wait to try contrast therapy, the longer you’re missing out on this great recovery and wellness tool.

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To experience the benefits and power of hot and cold therapy, take a look at our Cold Plunge Tubs and new incense cedar at-home sauna. We also have financing options available, which you can learn more about here.

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