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Contrast Hydrotherapy Plunge Pools & Hot Tubs

What is contrast hydrotherapy, are there any benefits to this treatment and can I try it at Home? In this article we explore these questions and more.
man in hot tub

What is contrast hydrotherapy?

Contrast hydrotherapy or contrast bath therapy is a form of hydrotherapy that has been practiced for centuries. It involves immersing either the whole body or part of the body in hot water and then immediately into cold water. This process is then repeated several times.
 

What are the Benefits of Contrast Hydrotherapy?

The Claims

Many believe contrast hydrotherapy offers wide range of physical and mental health benefits, however very little research has been conducted thus far to support these claims. Many physical therapists encourage contrast hydrotherapy as a treatment for:

• Muscle pain
• Joint pain
• Inflammation
• Arthritis
• Post-sport recovery
• Injury recovery
• & more
woman shoulder pain
The Facts

In 2013, a study was published where researchers examined the effects of contrast hydrotherapy on exercise induced muscle damage. The study concluded that contrast water therapy was superior to passive recovery methods following ‘exhaustive or damaging exercise’. In other words, contrast hydrotherapy was found to be more beneficial post strenuous workout than resting alone. An important take away from this study is that the benefits of contrast hydrotherapy were “most applicable to elite sport”. Furthermore, the study found that when compared to other, popular recovery methods, contrast hydrotherapy showed little difference in effectiveness. Methods such as stretching, active recovery and even cold and warm water therapy alone were thought to be just as effective. However, more research is required in these areas, conducted with larger sample sizes.

A small 2014 study, which was conducted on subjects with plantar fasciitis (foot pain) found that contrast hydrotherapy was equally effective as steroid therapy.

In 2018 a small study was carried out to examine the effects of contrast hydrotherapy on the oxygenation and intramuscular hemodynamics (blood flow) on a small trial of healthy, adult men and women. The findings pointed towards beneficial changes in the oxygenation of blood and muscle tissue repair.

More recently, in 2017, a meta analysis found that contrast hydrotherapy helped team sports players recover from fatigue faster than cold water immersion alone.
 

Can I try this at Home?

First of all, before attempting any sort of physical therapy or treatment it is important that you remain in good health. You should seek the advice of your doctor, or physical therapist before attempting contrast hydrotherapy, especially if you are currently managing health complications or recovering from injury. Having said that, if you do get the go ahead from your health professional, there is no reason you can’t try contrast hydrotherapy at home, especially if you have the luxury of a home hot tub! Home hot tubs are ideal for practicing contrast hydrotherapy.
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