Contrast Therapy or Hot/Cold Therapy is well established to aid in speeding up healing and recovery and there are many forms of contrast therapy out there. I’ve had my fair share of injuries and have tried many kinds of treatments but the current self-administered protocol I use has by far been the most effective to date.
I first heard of this version of Contrast Therapy from this episode of The Tim Ferriss Show. Coach Sommers explained his unique contrast therapy injury treatment which he learnt from Michael Jordan’s trainer back in the day. Michael had just finished a game one evening and rolled his ankle. With another game the next night, Michael’s trainer told him to try the contrast therapy and Michael did it for 2 hours that night. The next day, Michael scored 40 points!
- Ice pack (you can use frozen gel packs but I prefer to use traditional ice cubes in small ziplock bags as these last longer)
- 2 Small Towels
- Bucket of water (preferably filtered)
- Epsom Salt – Magnesium Sulphate (Amazon, iHerb)
- Timer (you can use your phone)
- *Optional: Chinese Medicated oil or any cream that produces a chemical heating effect and promotes blood circulation
- Fill the bucket with room temperature filtered water, just enough water for wetting the towel (~2L)
- Add 2 tablespoons of Epson Salt to the bucket and use one towel to mix it in
- Place your bag of ice on your site of injury (my hips in the picture) and cover with the other dry cloth
- Set your timer for 5 minutes
- After 5 minutes, switch the ice pack with the damp towel from your bucket (squeeze so it doesn’t drip all over)
- Set your timer for another 5 minutes
- Keep repeating this cycle until all the ice has melted or your gel pack is no longer cold e.g. [5 minutes cold, 5 minutes warm (room temperature)] x repeat
- Repeat this entire therapy as many times as possible in a day. Depending on availability of time, I average at least 5 times each day with each session lasting about 1 hour. Thankfully, this past month I have been stuck at home trying to recuperate from an autoimmune flare up so do this all day while multitasking by writing blog posts or doing research or playing PC games at home.
- *Optional: previously I did a form of vibration therapy to induce more lymphatic flow and blood circulation to the site of injury. This is done simply by patting the site of injury as in the video below.
- *Optional: after the contrast therapy, I used to put some form of medicated oil, a traditional Chinese remedy for all sorts of strains, sprains and aches. This one I used was made from Red Hibiscus flower and induces a chemical heat within the tissue which promotes blood circulation to the applied area. I think this is good after icing.
WORD OF CAUTION: Don’t let the oil touch your genitals. It can get pretty painful! 😉
Why room temperature water instead of hot water?
Well according to Coach Sommers, the ice will constrict blood vessels and reduce inflammation so we naturally want to promote blood flow back to the region. Room temperature is just enough to do that. There is no need to shock the area with hot heat as one extreme (0 degrees ice) is already more than enough. We want to restore blood flow, not hurt the cells by shocking and burning them!
Why dry cloth over the ice pack?
I do this for a two reasons. First, the cloth prevents too much heat absorption from the atmosphere so the ice pack lasts longer. Second, increasingly the ice pack will accumulate moisture on its surface as water from the atmosphere condenses on it. Thus to avoid wetting all the furniture I sit on, the cloth is a good way to absorb this.
Why towel sponge instead of soak?
I find soaking is fine too if possible but because the particular area I was treating made it very hard to soak. It was the inside of my hips, near my groin. I would need a huge tube to do that.
Why the Epsom Salt in the water?
Epsom Salt has been known to reduce pain and inflammation. However due to the lack of research, is still in the grey zone. Since they are pretty cheap and I have some at home, I thought ‘fortifying’ the warm part of the therapy with this might help speed recovery. Especially since we know that our skin is like our “second mouth” and does absorb moisture from the environment (think wrinkled skin from swimming too long).
Next time you have an acute injury characterised by an “Oh Shit!” moment, do not fret. What’s done is done. You can only try your best to heal as quickly as possible. I hope this post may help you quicken your recovery time the next time you get injured.
To your health,