By Shari Jainuddin, ND, BCB
In naturopathic medical school we are taught the art of water (hydro) therapy. This therapeutic approach includes contrast hydrotherapy which can be used to increase circulation to a specific area or the whole body. (You may be familiar with bath houses and spas that are more common in other parts of the world.) Contrast hydrotherapy employs hot and cold temperatures, and the contrast between them, to dilate and constrict blood vessels respectively, bringing blood to and away from tissue. In essence, you are exercising the cardiovascular system. It can be useful in many localized conditions, such as submerging the wrists in water baths to treat carpal tunnel, as well as improving overall energy when used over the entire body in the shower.
Start with temperatures that are not too uncomfortable. This is not about withstanding unbearable temperatures. There is no reward for how hot or cold you can handle, and it goes without saying you never want to burn or freeze tissue. As you routinely implement this therapy, your tolerance will build, and you will be able to endure a larger range of temperature. Below is the rule of 3’s, as it applies to contrast hydrotherapy.
1. Start with 30 seconds of hot/warm water.
2. Follow with 3 minutes of cold/cool water.
3. Repeat this for 3 rounds always starting with hot/warm and ending with cold/cool.
As with other therapies I love, this is an effective and least invasive approach to helping support your body heal and optimize wellness. Fun fact, I’ve used contrast hydrotherapy showers as a way to improve overall circulation when my energy is low or when I haven’t been able to keep up with physical exercise.
If you have any neurological issues such as diabetic neuropathy or reduced ability to sense temperature this therapy should be avoided or used with extreme caution because you are less likely to determine if the water is too hot or too cold.