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Alternating Hot and Cold Therapy

Heat therapy and cold therapy (cryotherapy) are used very commonly as treatments because of the benefits they pose to the body and the natural healing process involved in heating up and cooling down the body.

These two different techniques can actually be sued in conjunction with each other by alternating between hot therapy and cold therapy. This article will discuss how you can go about doing this, the products you'll need and the benefits of alternating hot and cold therapy. 

What is contrast therapy?

Contrast therapy refers to using both hot and cold therapy as a treatment, this can be done through different means but the most popular trend at the moment is called hot/cold immersion therapy. This form of contrast therapy makes use of ice-cold water and hot water or extremely cold conditions and extremely hot conditions.

This means it can be achieved through using things like an ice bath and a sauna or hot bath but can also simply involve a bucket of iced water and a bucket of very hot water.

This mainly depends on the type of treatment you're going for, ice baths combined with a sauna are better for treating the whole body but for targeting specific limbs or parts of the body; you'll need a more precise way of heating up and cooling down so this is where the buckets and things like hot & cold packs are more useful. 

How does contrast therapy work?

The science behind contrast therapy involves controlling and altering blood flow, cold therapy increases blood flow to a specific area of the body and heat therapy decreases blood flow to a specific area. Cold therapy poses benefits such as reducing inflammation, numbing the injured or affected area and reducing tissue damage. 

Heat therapy helps relax tense muscles, prevents lactic acid waste build-up and the improved circulation helps with the body's natural response while also making you feel better. The last benefit is more of a psychological benefit but your mental state has a bigger impact on recovery than you may think. 

There are more benefits tied to cold therapy with people like Wim Hof championing the idea of using cold water immersion for physical and mental health benefits.

You might know him from the Wim Hof Method which is a deep breathing technique, it's based on the fact that increased oxygen levels pose numerous benefits to the body.

Using cold water therapy as well offers full control over oxygen because it's good for oxygen regulation, shocking the body and of course decreasing blood flow.

It might make more sense if you think about what exactly happens when you take a really cold shower; you start breathing really fast and deeply which is your body's natural response known as a cold shock response.

This is because your blood vessels become restricted so you have to take in a lot more oxygen in order to survive since your body doesn't know how long it might be in that state. 

Ice pack

How can I use contrast therapy to treat an injury or recover?

As mentioned above, there are multiple ways to use hot and cold therapy together so it doesn't really matter how you do it as long as you're exposing whatever it is that you want to treat to both forms of therapy then you'll achieve the results you're looking for.

If you have an acute injury then use more targeted ways of treating the affected area and if you are looking to recover whole limbs like your legs then ice baths and more immersive treatments are better.

More targeted ways could be things like hot and cold packs or topical products that make use of hot and cold therapy. 

Hot and Cold Therapy Products 

Large Ice bath

Recovery Ice Bath

This is the only ice bath you'll need for cold water therapy, produced by Mueller; it is reliable and it's designed for personal use with comfortable dimensions.

It's also easy to empty it when you're done with convenient plugs for draining the water. 

There's a larger version of this recovery Ice bath designed for team use which has the added benefit of team bonding over recovery.

 Cooler box

Igloo Ice cooler

We mentioned buckets earlier but buckets don't really keep things cold and with cold therapy, the colder - the better. It's a good idea to use an ice cooler instead, this is the second largest one that we currently sell at 26 litres.

Before you scoff at the idea, I'll admit it's not my greatest product recommendation but it makes a lot of sense, especially if you're a sports therapist for a team sport where improvisation is always helpful and keeping the ice-cold will be a priority

The larger Igloo ice cooler is 36 litres but this size will do as you can easily fit your hand, feet and larger areas of the body such as limbs.

It might sound a bit silly to stick your leg into a cooler box but as mentioned earlier - it doesn't matter what you use for the treatment because as long as it's extremely cold or extremely hot; that's all that matters. 

Compression ice pack

Pro Ice Wrap 

This ice bag makes use of two great recovery treatments, cold therapy and compression.

The wrap-around strap is also good for securing the ice bag in place so you can use it for more specific treatments where you want to treat a particular area like a joint

Compression and cold therapy

Aircast Cyro Cuff

This is another good product to consider for compression combined with cold therapy treatment.

It's even better for targeting specific joints and muscles because there are different versions of the cryo cuff which are each designed for particular joints and muscles such as the elbow, calf, knee, thigh and ankle. 

ice pack and heat pack

Hot and Cold Pack

This is perfect for both hot and cold therapy, although if you're planning on using it for contrast therapy or alternating between hot and cold then you should consider getting a couple of these

That way you can keep one in the freezer ready for treatments and the other one will only take a minute or two in the microwave to heat up. 

warm massage oil

Sports Balm 

Suitably referred to as Fire Balm by some of our customers; Sports balm is an amazing option for topical products that can be used for heat therapy.

Its primary use is actually less for therapy and more for heating up muscles for pre-match warm-ups but it's so effective that it can be used for heat therapy as well.

Its recommended that if you want to use it for contrast therapy then you should get something like an ice bath or ice pack.

You would use the sports balm to warm the muscles up and then apply the ice pack or jump into an ice bath which allows you to target specific areas or whole limbs and parts of the body. 

Our sports balm also has the added benefits of not having an overpowering smell or burning sensation that most similar products have

heat therapy cream

Deep Heat 

As far as topical creams for heat therapy go, Deep Heat is certainly the leading brand with so many different options of heat therapy creams and pain relief gels.

Unfortunately, because it's a cream, it's absorbed into the body so it's not exactly the best option for contrast therapy but using cold therapy in conjunction with it and alternating with cold therapy after the warming effect wears off should be pretty effective.

Alternating Hot and Cold Therapy for Massage 

Hot stone therapy 

Although hot stone therapy is not directly related to alternating hot and cold therapy, it can theoretically be used as a form of heat therapy.

Hot stones are an alternative therapy technique that involves heating up special stones in a heater and placing the stones on the area that needs to be treated, this relaxes the muscles and helps distribute the heat evenly and slowly so that it is more beneficial to the patient or client. 

It is more associated with massage therapy but if you used hot stone therapy followed by a cooling massage then you'd technically be doing a hot and cold treatment. You could even use a cold gel or freeze spray but there are a lot more benefits of a cooling massage.

Simply alternating between warming massage and cooling massage could also have a really good impact on muscle recovery. 

A cost-effective way of incorporating cold therapy into massage would be to use a towel soaked in ice-cold water and place it on the part of the body that you want to treat followed by alternating with heat therapy.

Hopefully, you get the point by now, it doesn't matter how you actually perform your hot and cold treatments, the most important thing is that you're effectively heating and cooling - the body will do the rest. 

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