Contrast Baths

A form of physical therapy, in which a painful limb or extremity is immersed into warm water and cold water. It has been used to treat a variety of painful conditions, such as plantar fasciitis (inflammation of the thick connective tissue that stabilizes the arch of the foot) and wrist pain. Contrast baths are thought to cause small blood vessels in the affected area to expand and contract, which is thought to decrease inflammation and swelling.

The recommended temperature and duration of the immersions varies from one source to another, but the basic idea is the same: Dip the affected limb in a container of ice water (about 50° to 60°F and then move it to a second container of warm (but not hot) water. Suggested temperatures for the warm water vary from 100° to 110°F, though sometimes steam at temperatures of up to 140°F is used. Alternate between warm and cold water for a period of 20 to 30 minutes.

Robert S. Dinsmoor is a medical writer and editor based in Massachusetts.

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