Friday, March 20, 2015
Many athletes love to get in an ice bath or a hot bath before or after practices. This is a very common practice and is used in all levels of competition. Contrast therapy is the use of both the ice and hot bath.
Contrast therapy can be used for several different reasons, but the ratio of hot to cold differs for each problem. The most common ratio is 3 minutes of hot bath to 1 minute of ice bath. A 4:1 ratio of hot to cold is also a common practice.2 The temperature of both tubs can affect the ratio amongst other factors. The completion of this ratio one time is called a cycle. There is no set number of cycles to perform but the treatment should last for at least 10 minutes.
Contrast therapy has been thought to reduce swelling and decrease pain. After years of research and advances in technology, contrast therapy is no longer thought to do either of these. The hot and cold temperatures vasoconstrict and vasodilate the superficial blood vessels.2 Edema and swelling are moved by the lymph system not the flow of blood, so this vasoconstriction and vasodilation of the blood vessels doesn’t move the swelling out of the injured area.1 Pain is thought to decrease when the temperature of subcutaneous tissue is decreased. One would think this would occur during contrast therapy but it does not. The temperature of the subcutaneous tissue does not have enough time decrease to a low enough temperature for pain management to occur.1
There is no evidence that supports the use of contrast therapy as a means of reduction of swelling or pain management.1 Many athletes in my experience use contrast therapy when they are sore or the day before a game. Some athletes find it relaxing and some think that it helps their body recover. Even though it has been proven that it has no effect on swelling and pain management, contrast therapy is still used and practiced in many athletic training rooms across the country.
1Starkey, C. (1999). Clinical Application of Thermal Modalities. In Therapeutic modalities (4th ed., pp. 157-158). Philadelphia: F.A. Davis.
2Craig, D. (n.d.). How to use heat and cold to treat athletic injuries. Retrieved March 15, 2015, from http://www.humankinetics.com/excerpts/excerpts/how-to-use-heat-and-cold-to-treat-athletic-injuries