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Contrast Bathing Therapy for Elite Athletes and Chronic Pain Sufferers

Water-immersion therapy is one of the most intuitive and broadly-recommended techniques for helping your body feel better. Whether it’s a hot bath with epsom salts or dunking your foot in ice water, we all know that a good soak has immense healing potential.

As the science behind maintaining our physical health has matured, both hot and cold water immersion have been linked to improved health outcomes like faster recovery time from exercise, pain relief, and increased circulation. A growing body of research is also illuminating the effects of contrast bathing, a recovery protocol that uses alternating periods of hot and cold water immersion, to obtain the benefits of active rest without lifting a finger.

With our spacious and deep hot and cold tubs, DSR is the perfect place to reap the benefits of contrast bathing therapy. But how does contrast bathing work, and what is it good for?

The Science Behind Contrast Bathing

The mechanism that gives contrast bathing its healing powers is thought to be a result of the impact that exposure to different temperatures has on your blood flow. The warming of your muscles when exposed to hot water has a vasodilating effect, increasing blood flow in the tissue. Alternately, exposure to cold water creates a vasoconstricting effect, reducing blood flow.

Both effects are therapeutic in themselves- hot water is used to help improve circulation and relax the muscles, while cold water is used to calm inflammation and numb pain. The combination of the two creates a natural synergy that provides the benefits of both, with a unique improvement.

The alternating expansion and contraction of your blood vessels creates a pumping effect, allowing metabolic waste products to filter out of your muscles more efficiently. This allows your muscles to return to a baseline faster, with the added benefits of reduced inflammation and improved circulation.

Results of Contrast Bathing Studies

The studied benefits of contrast bathing are broad and easily applicable- there’s so many groups of people that can benefit from this therapy!

  • A professional rugby team was assigned a random daily treatment of contrast bathing, ice bathing, or nothing for four weeks. The scientists tested phosphate levels in the blood, as well as 300-meter sprint performance, over the course of their competition, and found that contrast baths outperformed both the control and ice baths. The results indicated that their bodies were able to recover more efficiently over continuous, rigorous exercise. [1]
  • A study assessing the effect of contrast bathing on peroneal nerve function in diabetic patients found that contrast baths provided a “highly significant” improvement in nerve function in the feet and lower legs. [2]
  • A collection of arthritis sufferers were given contrast baths or hot baths over the course of a week, and the study found a significant level of improvement in subjective arthritis pain ratings, an effect that was superior to hot baths alone. [3]
  • A review of the literature on contrast bathing among elite athletes found a significant decrease in post-exercise soreness at multiple time-points, and significantly less loss of muscle strength when compared to passive recovery. [4]

What’s the Best Way to Perform Contrast Bath Therapy?

Throughout the scientific literature around contrast baths, there are many different protocols and methods of administration described. There is validity to all of the different methods, but the previously-mentioned review of contrast bathing studies found a general timing of 3:1 or 4:1 hot:cold.

Functionally, this will look like six minutes of hot water immersion to two minutes of cold immersion. It can be tempting to stay in the nice, warm water, but stay strong and keep to your timing! The pumping action created by contrast bathing relies on switching back and forth on time, so be diligent! You should repeat this cycle 3-4 times. Be sure to finish in the cold tub!

As far as frequency, the aforementioned studies have shown positive effects from one-off treatments as well as continuous interventions. Consistency is key, so if you can get in the tub(s) 3-4X/week, you’ll see optimal results.

Contrast Bathing Made Easy

The primary issue with contrast bathing is the setup: very few people have access to two separate, large tubs of water for their hot and cold plunge. While the benefits can be immense, it can be very difficult to apply this therapy to most parts of your body without a specialized setup.

Denver Sports Recovery has you covered! With a large hot and cold plunge at our facility, you can easily access the benefits of contrast bathing without going to the trouble of setting up. Our tubs are perfect for full-body immersion, allowing you to reap the benefits of this therapy throughout your whole body. Set to 102 degrees and 52 degrees respectively, our tubs are primed for maximum therapeutic benefit.

If you’ve been looking for a way to recover faster from your daily workout, or just looking for help with chronic pains, our facility has a huge stock of recovery tools to help you feel your best. Come on down and find out just how easy it is to get back in the game!