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How to Heal Soft Tissue Injuries Using Contrast Therapy

Contrast therapy refers to the application of thermotherapy and cryotherapy in contrast. Two frequently used contrast therapy techniques are cold/hot packs and contrast water therapy (CWT). Despite the lack of research on it, it is commonly utilized in therapeutic and sporting settings, particularly to hasten recovery. The scoping review’s objective is to comprehensively analyze the research on using contrast therapy to treat and recover soft tissue injuries.

How Contrast Therapy Helps In Soft Tissue Healing 

Cold-to-hot therapy, also known as contrast therapy, relieves pain, injury, or overuse of the muscles and joints by rapidly switching between hot and cold temperatures, as the name implies.
The advantages of ice or cold immersion for treating injuries and controlling pain and swelling are well known; cold temperatures work well because they cause the blood vessels to constrict. As the vasculature becomes narrower, there is temporarily less blood flow, which lessens inflammatory signals reaching wounded sites throughout the body. Below is how contrast therapy helps in healing soft tissue.

1. Decreases inflammation

Vasoconstriction brought on by exposure to cold lowers blood flow to wounded tissues. By lowering the supply of inflammatory signals to the injured muscle or joint, this decrease in blood flow also reduces swelling and pain.

2. Quicker recovery from soreness

After a demanding, stressful training session, cold-to-hot therapy has been found to speed up the body’s ability to recover from muscle pain. Strength and recovery were noticeably higher in people receiving cold to hot therapy. 

3. Heat Therapy is Beneficial

Most musculoskeletal injuries can be successfully treated using heat treatment. For heat therapy to be effective, the warmth must permeate the skin and reach the underlying tissues. Heat therapy comes in two forms: superficial or deep heat. Hot baths and heating pads are used for superficial heat therapy, whereas sophisticated equipment is needed for deep heat therapy.
By boosting blood flow, relaxing the muscle, and enhancing connective tissue flexibility, superficial heat therapy can be adequate to produce therapeutic effects. Reduced stiffness, discomfort, and muscle spasms are among the immediate results. Anyone with arthritis, sprains, strains, or muscle spasms might benefit significantly from it. 

4. Benefits Of Cold Therapy

One of the most popular methods for treating recent wounds is cryotherapy. After a sprain or strain, ice packs are frequently the first course of treatment suggested. Vasoconstriction, a side effect of cryotherapy, causes your blood vessels to contract. This lessens the blood supply to the area of injury. It is good at reducing both oedema and inflammation.

5. It Helps To Relieve Pain

The physiological process through which contrast treatment works affects the body’s pain gate system. This causes a brief alteration in the pain signals sent to and received from your brain, which can provide significant pain relief for many chronic patients. Using contrast baths or saunas can effectively treat pain in the neurological and musculoskeletal systems.
Contrast treatment is excellent for draining out undesirable stagnant waste in the body by triggering a “pumping” mechanism because heat expands and cold contracts. Contrast therapy can also aid in efficiently removing lymph fluid from the body, lowering inflammation and the risk of illness. You may feel energized and alert thanks to the pumping process, which increases the volume of nutrient-rich blood circulating throughout the body.

6. Increased Range of Motion

An injury can significantly reduce the range of motion in a joint or muscle, whether a strained muscle or joint inflammation. Cold-to-hot therapy significantly lowers edema to regain that range of motion and movement.

7. Helps In Acquiring Strength

Additionally, it has been discovered that cold-to-hot therapy boosts muscle strength after recuperation. Compared to recreational athletes who were not getting the therapy, athletes exposed to contrast exhibited greater 1-rep maximums on the leg press, increased muscle power (as determined by isometric force), and performed better on the jump squat.

8. Significant Alleviation Of Pain And Swelling

Contrast therapy can significantly reduce swelling in athletes with Grade I or Grade II lateral ankle sprains, much more so than hot therapy or exposure. 

Does Contrast Therapy Cure?

Contrasting offers a few tiny health advantages but won’t cure anything. Contrary to popular belief, contrasting wouldn’t be expected to significantly impact healing. For example, it is unlikely to “accelerate healing” after tissue traumas like sprains and strains in a meaningful way.

What does Science Have to Say?

Unfortunately, there are just a small number of research, most of which focus on sports recovery and are notable for their inability to produce encouraging results. 

What Is Contrasting Particularly Good For? 

It is good for the following:

  • Plantar fasciitis
  • Shin splints 
  • Carpal tunnel syndrome
  • Tennis elbow
  • Achilles tendonitis

Musculoskeletal injuries should include contrast testing as part of rehabilitation, especially those involving repetitive strain injuries to the limbs. People rarely give repetitive strain injuries the amount of rest they need to heal, so any method for stimulating tissue without overstretching is helpful. The limbs are the most persistent candidates for contrast since contrasting them is significantly more straightforward, practical, and successful.

How to Contrast: Delivery Systems and Procedures

You should utilize your creativity and all the resources available to heat and cool your body parts. Remember that immersion surrounding the body part is always preferable to a flow or spray. The principal methods of temperature delivery include:

  • Immersion: in sinks, buckets, or tubs
  • Wrapping: in heating pads, ice packs, or soaked towels
  • Pouring/spraying: immersion in a stream from a faucet, containers, removable shower head, or hose

The main rule for contrast therapy is to alternate between heating and cooling three to six times. Time will likely be wasted doing more. Three or more is generally not worth the effort, either.

Final Words

Currently available research suggests that cryotherapy helps reduce pain. The effectiveness of cryotherapy has been called into question compared to other rehabilitation methods.

Cryotherapy’s precise impact on more common acute injuries (such as muscular strains and contusions) has yet to be thoroughly understood. Much additional high-quality research is necessary to develop cryotherapy guidelines supported by data. These must concentrate on designing ice application strategies to improve healing following injuries.


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