Contrast Therapy

What is contrast therapy?

A lot of hype has elevated cold therapy lately, with figures such as Wim Hof blazing the trail for ice baths and cold swims as potent stimuli for healing. But what about contrast therapy, the age-old process of alternating between the extremities of hot and cold? If you think cold therapy was good, imagine cold therapy amplified.

Contrast therapy is a healing practice that dates back to ancient Roman times, where bathers tested various hot pools of increasing heat, following that up with an icy dip. Recently, the similar practice from Scandinavia of alternating between snow and sauna has been popularised.

While the methods of contrast therapy vary from place to place, at Hana, we’ve selected a 70°C infrared sauna and 6°C ice bath for maximum benefit, offering water and electrolytes to keep you hydrated throughout your session. Fluctuating between the two temperatures stimulates blood vessel dilation and constriction, consequently shifting blood flow from the body’s periphery to the internal organs and back again. Contrast therapy reduces systemic inflammation and resets the nervous system.

Benefits of contrast therapy

While contrast therapy provides more benefits than a short blog post can do justice to, here are a few of our favourites:

Improve your recovery

Many of you already are familiar with using ice or heat packs following a workout, but you may not have experienced contrast therapy. The hot–cold technique is effectively an alternating ice and heat pack for the full body, which amplifies the beneficial effect for tired and sore muscles.

First, contrast therapy helps to remove lactic acid, which builds up in the muscles during exercise. This relieving effect is supported by several peer-reviewed studies. Second, contrast therapy intervenes before delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) can set in, relieving soreness and weakness more effectively than passive resting techniques. Third, a 2017 meta-analysis of numerous studies found that contrast therapy sped up athlete recovery within 24–48 hours after a game.

Minimise pain from injury

Injuries often hold us back, with inflammation causing pain as white blood cells and fluids amass at the site of damage. The good news is that contrast therapy provides a natural form of pain relief for these injuries, helping to reduce swelling and inflammation around affected areas.

Not only that, contrast therapy also acts as a kind of anaesthetic, dulling pain receptor pathways in the brain. One particular study of various hot and cold therapies on pain management suggests that when temperature extremes are applied, the receptors for pain signalling along the spinal cord are inhibited.

Anecdotally, many contrast therapy enthusiasts find that due to the short, sharp contrasts between hot and cold environments, their bodies release significant amounts of tension and stress. This release during each session beneficially stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system, or “rest-and-digest” system, which, when activated, reduces perceptions of pain.

Detox your system

In today’s world, encountering environmental toxins from pesticide sprayed food, our water supply, polluted air, plastics, personal care products and more is inevitable. While the body naturally engages in daily detoxification through the liver, sometimes these toxins—especially for those living in urban environments or under constant stress—cannot be fully eliminated. When the toxic load grows too great for the body to cope with, it exerts an array of negative effects, from hormone and gut disruption to brain and mood disorders.

Fortunately, you have a few ways to supercharge natural detoxification processes. Contrast therapy is one of these ways. Heat therapy has long been known to improve lymphatic elimination through sweating. Throw in some cold therapy, and the benefits are even greater.

Support immunity and healing processes

Finally, contrast therapy aids natural healing and immunity. In small doses, the stark contrast between hot and cold temperatures stimulates a bodily process called hormesis, in which the organism responds to stress by becoming more resilient. Crucially, this process helps to bolster immunity, with an extra dose of energy and vitality as a bonus side effect.

In a recent study of over 3000 people from Netherlands, those who practised contrast therapy during their daily shower were 30% less likely to call in sick—even throughout a whole year.

Another study that reviewed contrast therapy for treating COVID-19 indicated that participants increased their number of white blood cells, as well as improving other markers of a healthy immune system. The authors concluded that contrast therapy is a promising avenue for study in relation to COVID-19 risk prevention.

What’s next?

Feeling like your system needs a reboot? Want to heat up and chill out with a few friends? The team at Hana can tailor the perfect contrast therapy session for you. Call us on 09 954 0920, drop into our Grey Lynn clinic, or simply book online. We look forward to seeing you!