Contrast what-the-what?

What is contrast hydrotherapy?

Hydro means water. The contrast happens with a change in temperature. You expose your body/the body part you are treating with hot water, followed by cold water and repeat this process for several cycles.


Simple and inexpensive.

But is it effective?

Athletes have long been using contrast hydrotherapy as a means to recover from exercise more quickly. However, there is not much research demonstrating that it actually does help with post exercise recovery.

At this point, most evidence is anecdotal.

This therapy is also used for increased healing for soft tissue injuries, as it increases circulation with the extreme fluctuation in temperature.

The increase in circulation around an injury will bring in nutrients, oxygen and immune system cells to the damaged tissue. It will also help carry out metabolic wastes, inflammatory by-products and other toxins that are not beneficial to healing.

Intense therapy

If adverse effects such as dizziness, lightheadedness, nausea or feeling chilled occur, it could be because the treatment is too intense. Decrease the contrast of water temperatures and reduce the number of cycles to see if this issue resolves.

Do not perform this treatment if you have any heart and vascular issues (including heart disease, hypertension, intermittent claudication, weak connective tissue, vascular insufficiency or stasis, blood clots, deep vein thrombosis, phlebitis, and Raynaud’s), asthma or diabetes.

Now, do not be confused with using ice or heat packs. Contrast hydrotherapy is different than using one or both of these other therapies.

The benefits of ice

So what are the hydrotherapy benefits? Ice is beneficial for an acute, or new injury and helps to decrease inflammation.

It has been seen that using ice alone will more greatly decrease deep muscle temperature, as compared to contrast therapy, which suggests that it has a greater anti-inflammatory effect on musculature.

If there is inflammation and swelling present, heat will actually increase blood flow and make swelling worse.

It is also important to know that if you are icing a new injury, do not ice for more than 20 minutes at a time, because this will elicit a reflex called the Huntington’s response (which is to prevent frost bite) that will also make swelling worse.

Contrast hydrotherapy is typically performed with water immersion for a particular body part or a whole body shower.

hydrotherapy benefits_2Here is a typical protocol:

Warning: do not burn yourself!

– 2 minutes hot water
– 1 minute cold water
– 2 minutes hotter water
– 1 minute colder water
– 2 minutes hotter water
– 1 minute colder water
Always finish a cycle on cold water.

Basically, what contrast hydrotherapy comes down to is that it is easy to perform, cheap, and it’s not going to hurt.

Put your intention into healing and do what you feel will help. And always seek out the guidance of a qualified healthcare practitioner, who may know of other healing modalities and techniques.


Even more exciting (at least to me) is cryotherapy. Probably because it is a newer therapy in the states.

It has been used in Europe and Japan for several decades now. Cryo means cold, and it is a treatment lasting a couple minutes of being whole body bathed in liquid nitrogen.

It has been promising to be very helpful for inflammatory conditions like arthritis or muscles aches and pains. And I have had a lot of patients start using this therapy as an adjunct to their healthcare regimen.

Some of the numerous benefits of this therapy include decreased inflammation, increased memory, inhibited tissue damage post exercise, increased cognitive alertness and blood flow, and it helps fight depression. There are conditions, which are not recommended to use this therapy.

Check it out for yourself! Temperature can be used to our benefit, even if unpleasant for a moment in time.

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