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A well-respected expert on physiology and bodywork, Deane Juhan describes the human body in his extraordinary book Job's Body by saying, " A human being is a container invented by water so that it can walk around." I love this quote and first mentioned it in the draft of my Gardener's Body Book. But it just might be true. Water is incredibly important to the human body and dictates much of how it functions. I could rattle on about this for days, but I'm veering off from my intention to share the benefits of Contrast HydroTherapy.

In the early 1970's on the advice of a osteopath, I began experimenting with Contrast HydroTherapy -- short sessions of hot and cold water immersions. At first I only did the feet, but quickly moved on to doing this as a whole body therapy in the shower. At the time I thought the benefits were simply an increase in energy.  Who wouldn't be stimulated and energized after the sudden blast of a cold shower!!

Over the years and as I became more involved with bodywork, I began to understand the principals and applications more thoroughly. We all know that heat tends to expand and cold tends to contract. When you place your body or a body part into hot water, the tissues quickly expand and  fill with blood trying to cool off the area and regain a normal body temperature.(vasodialation) When immersed in extreme cold, the reaction is one of vasoconstriction. Both will cause the heart to beat faster and both will inhibit neural transmission thus relaxing muscles. But if the length of time immersed in heat or cold is prolonged, the opposite actually begins to occur and instead of increasing circulation, the blood vessels will become so contracted that the circulation is actually decreased. So contrast hydro therapy should only be done for short periods of exposure to the different temperatures.

This alternating hot and cold for short periods of time sets up a strong vascular pumping which will increase oxygen to the tissues and encourage lymphatic drainage and decreased congestion. I use this treatment on my hands and arms whenever they are overworked. This treatment is also very effective on the feet/legs for plantar fasciitis.

Here's how to do it:

Get a couple of  5-gal buckets or wastebaskets that are large enough for your foot to fit in compfortably and tall enough to come up high on your lower leg. If you’re treating you hands/arms, then you can use a double kitchen sink as your containers.  Put in enough ice to fill one bucket or sink about 1/4 to 1/2
 and top it off with cold water.  Fill the other bucket with hot water, at a temperature which COULD NOT BURN your skin.Between 98 and 104 degrees F.  Test the hot temperature before you use the ice water.

Begin by
 Plunging the affected limb into the cold water.  It will be intense.  Do the best you can.  If you can only keep the limb in the ice water for 10 seconds, that’s OK.  It will get easier.  You are working towards being able to keep the limb in the ice water for 30 seconds.  NEVER LONGER THAN 30 SECONDS OR ONE-HALF MINUTE.  MORE IS NOT BETTER! 

Then remove the limb from the cold water and plunge into the hot water.  Stay there for 40-60 seconds, long enough to begin “a more normal feeling” to come back.  
Then plunge back into the cold water.  Work up to 30 seconds as able. 
Then plunge back into the hot water.
 You get the idea.
Going from cold to hot is considered a round.  Do 5 or 6 rounds each time, per limb. 
NOTE:  Rest the limb after therapy.  DO NOT do strenuous exercise, or perform activities that require fine motor coordination. 

Contrast Therapy is powerful and it will change the way the limb feels and works. You'll find that the muscles will be easier to stretch or massage after this treatment and pain will be reduced.
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