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The Magic of Contrast Therapy

Updated: Mar 9

Contrast therapy is a type of hydrotherapy that combines exposure in hot water (or a sauna) and cold water, alternating the hot and cold baths in longer sessions. This technique may help to improve blood circulation throughout the body, treat edema, stiff joints, inflammation of soft tissues, muscle spasms, and painful limbs. This improved blood flow, which gets oxygen to cells faster, helps cells heal faster and prevents further damage.

Contrast hydrotherapy is commonly used by athletes to promote recovery and reduce muscle damage and the pain associated with delayed-onset muscle soreness (DOMS). Further research is required to support potential therapeutic applications of contrast therapy in people with acute and chronic muscle damage and soreness. Despite the lack of a robust amount of clinical evidence on cold to hot therapy in humans, there have been a few studies displaying its beneficial effects for recovery, strength, mitigating pain, range-of-motion, and overall performance and longevity. This type of hydrotherapy provides the best of both recovery modalities when considering whether cold or hot exposure is more appropriate

With the main benefits of cold water therapy mentioned above, heat therapy or heat immersion works in opposition to cold therapy. In response to heat, blood flow and circulation increase due to expansion of the blood vessels, known as vasodilation. This effect has the potential to increase nutrient delivery to injured areas throughout the body to improve the healing process, as well as relieve cramps and aching muscles.

Saunas alone have been found to provide several health benefits. Regular use can improve cardiovascular health, reduce stress, aid in muscle recovery after exercise, flush toxins from the body, improve brain health, relieve stress, induce a deeper sleep, fight illness, burn calories, and cleanse the skin. 

The high temperatures in saunas cause the body to release endorphins, relax muscles, soothe aches and pains, increase blood circulation, and reduce levels of cortisol in the blood. Recent studies have shown that consistent sauna usage can also reduce the risk of all-cause mortality, fatal cardiac incidents, stroke, and hypertension by up to 50%. Weekly sauna usage has also been studied to contribute to the release of active growth hormones in the body.

What the body experiences in a sauna is similar to the body's response to working out, which is why saunas have been referred to as a form of ‘non-physical exercise’. The dry heat in saunas can reach temperatures up to 185° F and the average person will pour out a pint of sweat within minutes. The pulse rate jumps by 30% or more, allowing the heart to nearly double the amount of blood it pumps each minute. Most of the extra blood flow is directed to the skin; in fact, the circulation actually shunts blood away from the internal organs. Blood pressure is unpredictable, rising in some people but falling in others. Sauna sessions should be no longer than 15-20 min.

Our contrast therapy will give clients 45 min in the room with both an ice bath and infrared sauna, they are free to alternate back and forth as they please for this time. We do recommend a 15 min sauna session followed by 5 a min cold plunge, repeated as liked. Shorter, more frequent rotations may also be beneficial, depending what is most preferred.

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