Contrast therapy is a method of alternating cold therapy and moist heat therapy to optimize the healing process in tendonitis.  The benefits of cold therapy include inflammation reduction and pain control.  The benefit of moist heat therapy is increasing circulation which speeds the healing and sweeps away inflammation.  The timing within the healing process to use contrast therapy is important and should be followed correctly.

Initially first 36 hours after an injury research shows that moderate cold therapy is beneficial in preventing excess inflammation and pain control.  If used after this point it is actually inhibiting the healing process.   After 36 hours the goal is now to increase circulation to speed healing and sweep out the leftover swelling.  Heat therapy alone is effective at this and has been the standard of care for many years.  New research is showing that Contrast Therapy is even more effective than traditional heat therapy at stimulating healing and decreasing chronic inflammation.  When used in combination with dietary modifications optimal recovery of chronic swelling can be achieved.

How to Perform

You will need an ice pack or back of ice, a microwavable moist heat pad, and a wet towel.  Wrap the ice pack in a towel soaked in cold water then heat up your moist heating pad.

Here is a basic pattern of how to apply contrast therapy:

  • Begin with 1 minute of cold
  • Apply 5 minutes of heat
  • Apply 1 minute of cold
  • Apply 5 minutes of heat
  • Apply 1 minute of cold
  • Apply 5 minutes of heat
  • Finish with 1 minute of cold

Hot and cold therapy should be carried out one to two times per day until the injury has healed. I have also found benefit in soaking the wet towel in a mix of Epsom salts and water before use.  It is a good idea to keep the wet towel in the freezer with the ice pack for ease of reapplication.