Contrast hydrotherapy is a warm or hot application followed by a cool or cold application. The hot/warm application causes vasodilation, which is simply a big word for relaxation and opening of the blood vessels, this allows more blood to flow in to the tissue bringing fresh oxygen and nutrients. Then the cold/cool application causes vasoconstriction, constriction of the blood vessels, which forces the excess blood back out of the tissue and removes waste products and toxins with it.
To achieve the best results, contrast application should be done in a 3:1, heat:cold ratio. For example 3 minutes of heat followed by 1 min of cold, or 15 minutes of heat followed by 5 minutes of cold. Although this ratio is ideal, local vasoconstriction occurs in 20 seconds, so your cold application could be as short as 30 seconds in length. To get a more pronounced effect on local circulation, repeat the contrast application several times or increase the difference in temperature between hot and cold. Always remember to end with the cold application, encouraging vasoconstriction instead of congestion.
So when would you want to use contrast hydrotherapy?? Any sub-acute condition (3-14 days after an injury), any chronic condition that is 3-14 days after flare up, headaches, poor circulation, to encourage good circulation to areas of chronic pain, and for daily good health.
The four main ways to do contrast hydrotherapy are with foot baths, towels, shower or packs. Now let's be honest, contrasting hot and cold towels is not something you could easily do yourself, and I personally can't bring myself to have a cold shower (although they are said to have amazing health benefits). So that leaves contrast packs which you can do yourself, or contrast foot bath which you may need help with. My personal favorite . . . contrast packs.
Contrast packs is easily, apply your thermophore or other hot pack/pad to the desired area for 15 minutes. Then grab your ice pack from the freezer, apply it to that same area for 5 minutes. Repeat as desired or necessary. Easy peasy, to quote my 6 year old.
So, now you know how to relax with soothing heat, hot to ease pain and inflammation with that treatment we love to hate - cold, and how to combine the 2 for increased circulation and optimal health.
Embrace the powers of water. It really is as simple as H2O!