As many of you know, as well as having a passion for all things plant-based, I am also a massage therapist and personal trainer. I’ve spent many years treating injuries of all kinds, and I have a few simple and effective tools that are simple enough for you to use at home. If you regularly overuse a particular muscle group, if you are looking for help with an injury or if you are an athlete looking for ways to prevent injury, read on…
Until recently, ice has been considered an important tool for the prevention and treatment of soft tissue and joint injury and dysfunction. Today, however, ice is losing it’s ground in the treatment of acute injury. We’ve long understood how icing hampers the inflammatory response. (Ice impairs the release of prostaglandins, lipid mediators that behave like hormones, which stimulate inflammation in the face of injury or chronic dysfunction.) But we are now acknowledging that inflammation is a natural and necessary part of the healing process, with additional qualities of stabilizing and supporting the tissue or joint involved. The thinking is that we therefore shouldn’t interfere with the inflammatory response following injury.
The question remains, then, is whether or not there is still a place for ice at all in effective hydrotherapy, (rehabilitation and preventative therapies using water). I am happy to report that ice continues to play a key role. And with it’s ability to cause a vasoconstriction, (a narrowing of blood vessels), it is perfect for use in the contrast bath.
The contrast bath creates a “flushing effect”, removing waste and improving the delivery of oxygen and nutrients to damaged cells. Contrast baths step up circulation and nutrient exchange, supporting tissue health and healing, using hot water to first stimulate a vasodilation, (opening of the blood vessels) by the heat, followed by ice water, causing a vasoconstriction, (narrowing of the blood vessels) enhancing nutrient exchange at the cellular level.
Lymphatic flow is also enhanced by the contrast bath, stimulating a pump-like action of lymph in what may be an immobilized injury. This aids in the removal of waste and toxic build up as well.
Here’s how it works: The most effective contrast bath cycle is as follows: Immerse affected area into a tub of hot water for 3 minutes, (as hot as is tolerable) and then move affected area into a tub of ice water for 30 seconds (cold water and lots of ice!) Then, move right back into the hot, and repeat 3 minutes in hot and 30 seconds in ice water two more times. The full treatment includes three cycles of 3 minutes in hot and 30 seconds in cold, always ending with the cold.
An important note: The biggest mistake I see people make with the contrast bath is leaving the affected area in the ice water too long. It is important to note that the goal is to stimulate a vasoconstriction with the cold water as part of the flush, and 30 seconds in ice water is the perfect amount of time to achieve this.
Contrast baths are an effective way to deliver oxygen and nutrients and efficiently remove waste from damaged tissue. I encourage you to include them as part of a treatment plan for post exercise muscle soreness, prevention of overuse injuries, tendonitis, plantar fasciitis, muscle strains and sprains.
Reach out if you have any questions! I am happy to help.