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Hot-Cold Water Therapy Discover Contrast Baths
Hot-Cold Water Therapy Discover Contrast Baths

Hot-Cold Water Therapy: Discover Contrast Baths

May 26, 2023

Hydrotherapy can be helpful for individuals dealing with chronic pain or recovering from an injury. Contrast baths are a type of hydrotherapy that requires minimal movement and allows the water to do the work for you. This makes contrast baths an attractive option for those with limited mobility. Read on to discover more about this refreshing and therapeutic technique.

What is a Contrast Bath?

According to National Library of Medicine, contrast baths are a therapeutic technique used in sports medicine, athletic training, and rehabilitation, which involves soaking your body or the affected area in alternating hot and cold water. The proposed benefits of contrast baths include increased tissue blood flow and oxygenation while decreasing tissue swelling and edema, promoting healing, improving limb function, and speeding up recovery. Usually, a contrast bath consists of soaking in hot water for one to four minutes and then cold water for one minute, repeated several times.

Contrast Bath

How to Do a Contrast Bath

Contrast bath therapy is often used under the guidance of a physical therapist or an athletic trainer. At a physical therapy or rehabilitation clinic, you may be immersed in different tubs or whirlpools for whole-body immersion or a targeted intervention to immerse only your injured area.

While under the care of a physical therapist, you may also be instructed to perform exercises while in the water.

If you choose to perform contrast baths at home, gather the necessary supplies which include two containers/tubs, a thermometer to measure water temperature, and towels.

To perform the contrast bath therapy on your own:

  1. Fill one container with cold water between 50-59°F(10-15°C) and another with warm water between 95-113°F(35-45°C).
  2. Immerse either your entire body or the injured body part in warm water for 1-3 minutes, set the timer, and, optionally, you can do gentle exercises during this portion.
  3. Immediately follow with a dip in cold water for 1 minute.
  4. Repeat this process for approximately 20 minutes, ending with the cold water in the container.
  5. Check for water temperature throughout the process, and maintain the ideal temperature range by refreshing the water as needed.

It's recommended to consult your doctor before attempting contrast bath therapy to ensure it's safe for you. Remember to be careful not to exceed the recommended time frame and temperature, to avoid possible burns or other injuries.

How does contrast bath therapy work?

Contrast bath therapy works by producing rapid changes in your circulatory system as you transition from very warm water to very cold water.

When you submerge your body or body part in cold water, small blood vessels called capillaries constrict in response to the cold, while immersing in warm water causes the opposite effect called vasodilation, where blood vessels open up. Changes in water temperature also affect your heart rate, with cold water causing it to speed up, and hot water slowing it down.

So, how do these circulatory changes help you?

The alternating hot-cold water immersion cycle in contrast bath therapy causes your blood vessels to open and close continuously in a pump-like motion. This pumping action is believed by some advocates to stimulate blood flow, ease inflammation and swelling of injured muscles or joints, and relieve various symptoms.

What are the Benefits of a Contrast Bath?

  • Contrast baths are thought to alleviate the symptoms of many conditions, including arthritis, carpal tunnel syndrome, and plantar fasciitis.
  • Contrast baths can target specific areas, such as hands and wrists, forearms and elbows, feet and ankles, and calves and knees.
  • Contrast bath therapy is considered a passive form of therapy and is less effective than active ones for pain management. Studies indicate that active therapies are usually more successful in managing pain than passive ones. Passive interventions, including contrast bath therapy, should supplement active therapies.
  • Reduces post-game fatigue for athletes and helps alleviate delayed onset muscle soreness following intense exercise better than passive resting alone. Team sports players may experience relief from post-game fatigue through contrast hydrotherapy, which involves alternating hot and cold baths. A research found that immersion in both hot and cold water was effective in helping players recover from fatigue within 24-48 hours after the game. Immersion in cold water alone did not provide the same benefits.
  • Help decrease lactic acid levels in the body, reducing soreness and fatigue from strenuous exercise. Firstly, the most effective outcome occurred when researchers found that the hot water temperature used was below 104°F (40°C). Secondly, other widely-used therapies, including cold water immersion, were as effective as contrast bath therapy in alleviating the symptoms.
  • Reduce swelling following an injury by lessening swelling around three days post-injury, according to a study involving 115 people with ankle sprains.

Risks of Contrast Bath Therapy

Using contrast bath therapy carries the risk of skin damage and heart arrhythmia if the water temperature is too hot or too cold. Additionally, this therapy is not recommended for all medical conditions, and it is important to consult your doctor or healthcare provider before attempting it, particularly if you plan to submerge a large portion of your body. If you have the following conditions, please seek medical advice before using contrast hydrotherapy:

  • Open wounds
  • Burns from water that is too hot
  • Skin damage from water that is too cold
  • Heart issues
  • High blood pressure
  • Deep vein thrombosis


To ensure the safety of contrast bath therapy, certain precautions must be taken. The therapy session should not exceed 30 minutes, and individuals with high blood pressure, heart problems, diabetes, or untreated or infected wounds should consider other hydrotherapy options.

While contrast baths are generally safe when performed appropriately, it is important to be vigilant, particularly if the entire body is being submerged instead of just a few limbs.

  • Make sure that the water temperature is appropriate, as excessively hot water can cause burns, while extremely cold water can damage the skin.
  • Although rare, contrast baths have been known to cause heart arrhythmias, making it unsuitable for those with heart issues who should explore other forms of hydrotherapy.

How Whirlpool Tubs Can Complement Contrast Baths

Incorporating contrast baths into a hydrotherapy routine has been shown to alleviate pain and muscle tension. Our whirlpool bathtubs offer an ideal way to unwind and make this a relaxing end-of-day ritual. With built-in hydrotherapy jets, our Baths can aid in increasing blood circulation in addition to contrast baths. Each jet can be adjusted independently to focus on specific areas of discomfort.


Contrast bath therapy involves repeatedly immersing a particular area or the entire body in water, alternating between warm and cold temperatures.

Research has validated the efficacy of contrast hydrotherapy in reducing muscle fatigue, alleviating pain, swelling, and minimizing lactic acid buildup following intense physical activity.

Contrast hydrotherapy can be administered under the supervision of a qualified therapist, or you can perform it on your own by immersing the affected body part or your entire body in warm water for 1-3 minutes, then switching to cold water for 1 minute, and repeating the process several times.

However, there are potential risks associated with specific medical conditions, and it is essential to consult your physician before attempting this treatment on your own.

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