Contrast Therapy: The Hot & Cold of It

Last updated August 22, 2023

By switching between hot and cold temperatures, contrast therapy can help reduce inflammation, improve circulation and reboot your system.

I stood there on the edge of the pool, thinking to myself, “this is exactly why I moved out of New England—the cold.”

It was a birthday trip to an established wellness resort and spa in Scottsdale, Arizona. Seeking respite, peace and restore, taking a dip into a freezing cold plunge pool was not exactly on the typical relaxation agenda I would set out for myself.

However, there I was, birthday day in my almost birthday suit, ready to experience all of the benefits of the hot and cold plunge pools at CIVANA Wellness Resort & Spa. With three onlookers, I did an inner monologue countdown, promising myself to just go for it: “three, two, one. Go all in or nothing.”

The experience went as follows. First, the immediate rush that came over my body; then, shock, followed by warmth. Lastly, my body recognizing and questioning “what the heck is this and why are you doing this to yourself, Sara!”

We’ll figure this out later, for now, stick with the commitment to go for it.

Contrast Therapy 101

Hot and cold therapy, also known as contrast therapy, is a popular form of treatment used in resorts and spas to help relax the body and mind. This type of therapy involves alternating between hot and cold treatments to stimulate circulation, reduce inflammation, ease muscle tension and improve overall health.

Hot and cold therapies have been around for thousands of years. Truly an experience to try and more popular than ever, now at many well-known resorts, spas and gyms throughout the world.

The Romans were the first to be recognized for implementing this methodology. The benefits of hot and cold plunges and contrast therapies are not only healing and awakening, they’re anti-aging and re-energizing for the entire body.

After this initial experience of the full plunge into the cold depths of the pools in the heat of the desert, followed by the hot bath to balance it all out and bring my body back to recognition, I felt more energized, lighter and more clear-minded.

All of this led me to want to know more about the ins and outs of thermo-therapies. To spare you the time to research, here are the basics of what I found out on hot and cold contrast therapy.

Benefits of Contrast Therapy

Contrast therapy is a natural healing practice that combines the use of hot and cold temperatures to improve overall health and well-being. It has been used for centuries in many cultures, but has recently gained popularity due to its numerous benefits.

While the heat increases blood flow throughout the body, the cold or deep freeze retracts the blood flow, decreasing circulation. By alternating between hot and cold temperatures, contrast therapy can help reduce inflammation, improve circulation and even promote weight loss for some of the reasons in the previous paragraph. In addition, it can also help relieve pain from muscle tension or injury. 

My first cryotherapy experience at a center in West Hollywood, Los Angeles, I can attest to reducing and almost removing all pain in my knee and ankle from an old running injury.

Taking before and after photos, I also saw the reduction in size of my waist and legs from the reduction in inflammation from flying the previous week and walking around so much in the hills of LA. 

As a whole, by taking advantage of the therapeutic properties of both hot and cold temperatures, contrast therapy can be an effective way to treat a variety of physical ailments.

What Treatments Are Available?

Hot treatments can include saunas, steam rooms, hot tubs, hammams or Jacuzzis while cold treatments can include ice baths or wraps. By alternating between hot and cold treatments, this type of therapy can help reduce stress levels while improving circulation throughout the body.

Noting, these are just a few of the outlined treatments available, where many cultures and destinations—especially when traveling internationally—may have their own traditional contrast therapies for locals to share with the touristic experience. 

Heat and cold therapy is a popular treatment used to reduce pain and inflammation. It can be used to help with muscle aches, joint pain, headaches and other physical ailments.

Here are a few tips that I learned to implement if you’re also new to the hold and cold, or contrast, therapy world:

  • bring a swimsuit
  • bring an extra change of clothes
  • shower off prior
  • don’t think too much about the cold therapy before jumping in
  • if you can do two minutes in the freeze, wonderful
  • if you can do 30 seconds in the freeze, great
  • if you can do 10 seconds in the freeze, you did it
  • now get in the heat and thaw
  • repeat three times between cold and hot, if possible
  • shower off after
  • journal after to create your own body feedback on the experience

Fire & Ice Takeaway

I wasn’t too keen on the idea of getting into the cold at first either; however, after receiving the feeling of the contrast therapies, it became a bit like running daily. It gradually wore on me and now personally enjoy the bit of euphoria that I get after. I feel recharged, restored and energized for the rest of the day. Not to mention at the top of my game.

Have you tried cold and hot, or contrast, therapies before? What was your experience like?

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