This winter save your hands

Cold and Painful Hands? Contrast Baths can Help

Contrast bathing is a great way to increase circulation and reduce pain with many muscle, bone or skin symptoms such as aches, pains and inflammation or flaring of symptoms.


In order to get the most out of your contrast bath use the following guidelines:

  • Find two tubs large enough to submerge the affected limb (most often a hand or foot). Fill the tubs with water; one with warm or hot water (no more than 38 degrees Celsius please, we don’t want to burn ourselves!), and the other with cool or cold water (at least 10 degrees Celsius cooler than the warm or hot tub).
  • Submerge the affected limb in the warm or hot water first. Let the limb rest in the water for 3 minutes.
  • Take the limbs out of the warm or hot water, and submerge in the cool or cold water. You should spend 3 minutes in the warm water you should spend one minute in the cool water and you repeat this contrast for 3 to 4 times. Then the hot water will have cooled down so stop the treatment.
  • Alternate between the warm or hot and cool or cold water with the 3:1 ratio at least 3 times. Always end the contrast bath with the affected limb submerged in the warm water.


ALTERNATE METHOD: If water baths are not available or practical for the area being treated. Use a heating pad or a hot wet towel to the affected area for 3-4 minutes. Alternate using an ice pack wrapped in a towel or a dampened frozen wash cloth or towel for 1 minute. Repeat the above steps three more times.


DO NOT perform contrast baths for any of the following problems:

  • Local malignancies
  • Peripheral vascular disease (PVD)
  • Impaired sensation
  • Bleeding and acute inflammation
  • Diabetes and neuropathy
  • If there is a good pulse in the extremities, diabetics and those with neuropathies can benefit from a contrast bath, but it needs to be under the supervision of a physical therapist.


Again, you should consult your physical therapist at Surrey Sports and Rehab if you are unsure if this treatment is right for you.


A contrast bath is a good modality of choice for injuries that cause swelling and pain around the joints and soft tissue in the body. These can include:

  • Acute injuries to limbs or joints (over 72 hours)
  • Upper and lower extremity fractures, plantar fasciitis, Achilles tendinitis, hand and finger arthritis
  • Conditions with reduced blood flow
  • Muscle hypertonicity resulting in cramps or spasms
  • Repetitive strain activities, such as carpal tunnel syndrome
  • Chronic Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS)


You should consult your physical therapist at Surrey Sports and Rehab Centre if you are unsure if this treatment is right for you.

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