Heat & Ice Benefits: When to Use Contrast Therapy For Injuries and Pain

Contrast therapy, known as the practice of exposing parts of the body to hot and cold temperatures, is used to reduce inflammation and help create better circulation near injuries or areas of chronic pain. While we don't all have access to hot tubs, saunas and ice baths, there are other ways to successfully treat your body with contrast therapy. Before getting into those methods, we will talk about the science behind hot and cold therapy and what the body goes through during contrast therapy.

Cold Therapy

The science behind cold therapy is endless. The problem for most people has nothing to do with the science, it has everything to do with that first minute when you dip into the freezing cold water. There are some different breathing techniques out there that can help you adapt quicker, mostly involving focus on deep meaningful breaths. It is amazing how a panicky hyperventilating type breathing can make matters so much worse. If you are new to cold therapy and ice baths, have a look here for some info on breathing techniques to make it easier.

"The purpose of deep breathing is to induce a ‘hypometabolic state,’ where autonomic and mental arousal are minimal. It is a resting, restorative state, a counter anxiety, counter stress response of the body induced by using the breathing that goes with relaxation to trigger a similar muscle response in the body." Robert Fried, Clinical Respiratory Psychophysiologist
Cold Therapy via Polar Plunge

There are different at home ways we can benefit from cold therapy, from a cold shower to the Recoup Cryosleeve. One gives the benefits of full body immersion, the other a precise location based ice and compression option. The cryosleeve gives the benefits of cold to specific parts of the body and the convenience allows you to do it practically anytime and anywhere.

the recoup cryosleeve showing the boa fit dial
Recoup Cryosleeve with the BOA Fit System for Cold Therapy

Cold therapy has been found to help reduce inflammation and decrease blood flow through contraction of the blood vessels. Among many other benefits, these are the main benefits we should look for when wanting to get over injuries and reduce soreness in muscles.

"Cold therapy works by reducing blood flow to a particular area, which can significantly reduce inflammation and swelling that causes pain, especially around a joint or a tendon. It can temporarily reduce nerve activity, which can also relieve pain." Ana Gotter, Healthline.com

Heat Therapy

To only participate in cold therapy and not pair it with heat therapy would be like going to the gym, doing a warm up, and then heading home without completing the rest of the work out. Not the best analogy, but basically to get the most out of cold therapy, you want to pair it with heat therapy.

"Heat therapy works by improving circulation and blood flow to a particular area due to increased temperature. Increasing the temperature of the afflicted area even slightly can soothe discomfort and increase muscle flexibility. Heat therapy can relax and soothe muscles and heal damaged tissue." Ana Gotter, Healthline.com

Heat therapy is best for older injuries, you typically aren't wanting to apply heat to a new injury. That is what cold therapy is for. However, old injuries that have been bugging you for a while will find relief from heat therapy, now pair that with cold therapy to really rejuvenate the muscles and joints.

Contrast Therapy

When you pair heat therapy and cold therapy you are getting the extreme benefits of both, it accelerates the jump from the benefits of heat to the benefits of cold. Continue this and you will create a pumping process throughout the body, clearing your injuries of the byproducts that cause inflammation and soreness. It is found that between 3 and 6 repetitions of hot and cold are best, less than 3 and you won't be getting as much benefit, more than 6 and you most likely are just plateauing the benefits.

"The current evidence base shows that contrast therapy is superior to using passive recovery or rest after exercise; the magnitudes of these effects may be most relevant to an elite sporting population." François Hug, Contrast Water Therapy and Exercise Induced Muscle Damage: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis

Most of us don't have the ability to do full body immersions in hot then cold and back again, and on that same note, we might not be needing full body immersion if we are looking for contrast therapy on a specific injury. Luckily the recoup cryosleeve will soon be able to be paired with the recoup thermosleeve for quite the contrast therapy duo.

The Recoup Thermosleeve with the BOA Fit System for Heat Therapy

The pairing of the cryosleeve and thermosleeve will make it so the end user can bring contrast therapy with them virtually anywhere they go. Much more portable than a tub or sauna and way more convenient than a shower every time you have an ache or pain.

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