Contrast baths reduce swelling and aids recovery from painful lactic acid buildup caused by excessive exercise. At Accelerate Physical Therapy, we have developed an application of this technique that is easy to apply at home, and surprisingly effective in comparison to (an in addition to) every other modality we use clinically. We use it extensively for ankle, foot, elbow and hand conditions to reduce edema (swelling), effusion (excessive joint fluid), pain and ecchymosis (bruising).
Try this (very inexpensive treatment) at home:
Fill up two basins or buckets – one hot and one cold – with water from your faucets. Soak the effected part in cold water (preferably first and last) for 2-3 minutes, then alternate 2-3 minutes in hot water, 2-3 minutes cold, 2-3 minutes hot water, and finally 2-3 more minutes cold – for a total of 10-15 minutes of treatment.
The use of heat immediately after an injury may cause MORE bruising and swelling. Therefore, do not use HOT water until 2-3 days after the injury.
Hot water causes vasodilation (widening) of the blood vessels. Cold water causes vasoconstriction (active narrowing) of the blood vessels. Alternating this response is therapeutic, and is effectively manipulated by the change of temperatures. Opening the blood vessels when the injury is fresh will cause more blood to be spilled between tissues. This blood causes the bruising seen (and not seen). The less blood and protein substances that are released, the shorter the recovery time will be. The more bleeding and therefore bruising, the more painful it can be, and the slower the recovery will be. Use cold treatment, compression, elevation and apply Arnica Montana gel to the skin over the injury to treat the injury for the first 2-3 days.
Sprains, tendonitis, epicondylitis, contusions, and painful nerve conditions all have benefited from Contrast Baths here at Accelerate Physical Therapy, PC. We strongly suggest that people use it to improve conditions that otherwise be slower to resolve.