From Heat to Cold: Pairing Infrared Saunas with Ice Baths for Maximum Recovery

From Heat to Cold: Pairing Infrared Saunas with Ice Baths for Maximum Recovery

When suffering a physical injury, the main thing any of us want to do is to heal and recover as quickly and safely as possible. Many approaches can be taken to help speed up recovery, and contrast therapy stands out as one of the most effective means of doing so.

In this blog, we’ll discuss how a combination of hot and cold therapy can maximise your physical recovery and how infrared saunas and ice baths are the perfect combination for implementing this type of therapy into your life.

The Foundations of Contrast Therapy

Contrast therapy, also known as hot-cold therapy, is a form of physical therapy in which you alternate between hot and cold treatments. The alternating temperatures trigger changes in the body, particularly those related to muscle tissue and the circulatory system.

Professional athletes have used contrast therapy for decades as it can help improve blood circulation and muscle recovery, and shorten the duration of physical injuries.

Contrast therapy can be achieved by: 

  • Alternating between hot baths and ice baths
  • Going from an infrared sauna to an ice bath; 
  • Going from a sauna or hot bath to a natural cold setting; or
  • Going from a natural hot setting to an ice bath

Boosting Circulation: The Hot-Cold Cycle

Probably the most notable benefit of contrast therapy is how it influences the body’s circulatory system. Going from a warm setting (a sauna or hot bath) to a cold setting (an ice bath) triggers rapid changes in circulation. 

The key to this change exists in the processes of vasodilation and vasoconstriction. When immersed in a hot setting, your blood vessels expand, which is vasodilation. This causes increases in blood flow, which facilitates an increase of oxygen and nutrients throughout the body.

When you’re immersed in the cold by using an ice bath, your blood vessels will constrict, which is vasoconstriction. This leads to a reduction in blood flow, which facilitates a decrease in inflammation and swelling.

By alternating between both forms of temperature-based therapy, your blood vessels will dilate and constrict in a pump-like motion. This constant change in blood flow helps flush toxins from tissue and reduce swelling. 

Switching between hot and cold therapy addresses different pain points in the body and offers health benefits with faster recovery from injuries and general soreness.

Mental Resilience: Training the Mind with Extremes

While contrast therapy’s key benefits are in the physiological changes they trigger, experiencing hot and cold settings within quick succession of one another can also build your mental resilience.

In instances of hot and cold therapy, your state of mind will dictate how bearable or unbearable the experience is. 

As has been noted with ice baths in the past, mental resilience is key for taking that plunge into cold temperatures and maintaining the fortitude and openness to rest in that cold for many minutes at a time. 

Mindfulness and meditation are powerful tools for navigating physical discomfort, and the constant physical stimulation of ice baths demands a degree of presence and mental fortitude.

While heat therapy through a sauna doesn’t pose the level of perceived discomfort that an ice bath does, it does make for a good setting where you can continue to work on mental resilience.

The hot temperatures help improve mood and promote relaxation, but it’s also a great place to set aside time and actively practise mindfulness

While in the sauna, you can close your eyes, focus on your breath, and let thoughts pass through without attaching yourself to them.

Regular meditation and mindfulness are powerful ways to improve your focus, quieten your mind, and reduce your mind’s reactivity to the world around you.

Guidelines for Safe and Effective Contrast Therapy

With contrast therapy, it’s important to get the order right. The most common order is to do hot therapy first and then follow that up immediately with cold therapy. In general, this is easier on the body and sustains the combined benefits of the therapies.

Of course, this approach can differ depending on your specific health needs. What’s most important, as with any form of therapy, is that you work within the parameters that you’re comfortable with.

If the time spent in a sauna or ice bath feels too excessive or is causing discomfort, shorten your time or alter the temperatures. You can adjust the heat of an infrared sauna similarly to how you change how cold your ice bath is.

In the event you’re using makeshift solutions for your hot and cold therapy (e.g. steaming your bathroom or using a regular bathtub for an ice bath) and can’t as easily alter the temperature, simply change the time you spend in both settings.

If it’s your first time trying contrast therapy, we strongly recommend you speak with your doctor or healthcare professional. This is especially important if you have conditions such as:

  • Open wounds
  • Heart issues
  • High blood pressure
  • Deep vein thrombosis

We also highly recommend having a friend, family member or physical therapist around for support during your initial contrast therapy sessions.

Personalising Your Recovery Routine: Finding the Right Balance

Everyone is different, so what works for one person may not work for you. When first starting, the best approach is always to start slow and build up. 

It’s also worth getting used to both forms of hot and cold therapy on their own before combining them with contrast therapy.

From there, you assess and refine your contrast therapy regimen. Depending on your health needs, you may be better off spending more time in an infrared sauna or an ice bath. If unsure, it’s worth speaking to a health or fitness professional for guidance.

At Kiva Wellness, as a general baseline for contrast therapy, we encourage an approach of spending 20 minutes in an infrared sauna followed by a cold plunge in an ice bath for three to five minutes. But, as always, listen to your body and don’t push beyond reasonable limits.

If contrast therapy sounds right for you and you want to integrate it into your life at home, we have a range of fantastic Far-Infrared Saunas and Kiva Ice Baths to choose from, with shipping across Australia.

We’re happy to answer any questions you may have. Get in touch today!