Hot and Cold Hydrotherapy

What is hydrotherapy?

Hydrotherapy is the use of heat or cold for pain relief and treatment.  It is commonly used for musculoskeletal injuries, but is also helpful in treating systemic issues like anxiety, sleep disturbances, digestive disorders, headaches and many more.


How does hydrotherapy work?

The theory behind hydrotherapy is that hot and cold are used in isolation or together to manipulate blood flow by directing it away from one area or towards another area.


How is hydrotherapy applied?

There are some basic rules to consider when using hydrotherapy.  Listed below are some short and long term effects of cold and hot.


Some basic rules of hydrotherapy:

v    Never use heat in the presence of inflammation

v    Never use cold on an area/body that is already chilled

v    Never apply heat in the presence of internal pins/wires

v    Prolonged heat treatments should NOT be used for people with heart conditions, lung or kidney disease, are pregnant, have diabetes

v    Use extreme caution on an area with decreased sensation

v    Always use cold on post exercise soreness

v    Never apply a hydrotherapy source directly on the skin.  Always use a barrier like a towel



v    Used in cases of inflammation to reduce excess blood flow to the site of injury by constricting blood vessels.

v    Applied briefly, cold stimulates local metabolism and adrenal gland function.

v    Applied for longer, cold slows local metabolism, nerve firing, breathing, heart rate, muscle spasm (acute), kidney function and digestion

v    Acts as an analgesic



v    Causes blood vessel dilation, leads to increase heart rate, respiration, perspiration

v    Increases local metabolism but slows body’s metabolism

v    Decrease muscle spasm (chronic)

v    Increases then decreases Blood Pressure

v    Decrease digestions and increases urine production


What is Contrast Hydrotherapy?

Contrast hydrotherapy is the use of hot and cold together.  Contrast is best used for increasing circulation, by creating the ‘whipping’ effect.  As cold stops blood flow and heat increases blood flow there is a constant stop-start, or whipping that happens.  Contrast is great in areas of inflammation or when you’re feeling sluggish and want to feel refreshed.


Contrast is also very helpful in the subacute stage of injury healing; the stage after the initial acute stage (approximately first 3 days after an injury) but before the chronic stage (roughly two weeks after an injury).


Catherine Taman is a Registered Massage Therapist practicing in Toronto, Canada.  She has a special interest in treating chronic pain, headaches, sports injuries and pregnancy related pain. To book an appointment with Catherine, visit





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