Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Study Spotlight: Contrast Therapy Does NOT Cause Fluctuations in Human Gastrocnemius Instramuscular Temperature

By: Joel Luedke

Contrast therapy can be a very useful modality both for the treatment of injury and also for the recovery of athletes from workouts or competition.  It can be used in the subacute phase of injury as a
transition from traditional cold therapy (if you choose to use it) or it can be an nice change up from just using the cold tub to help recover.  Find out  more about what it does with temperature below.

What They Did: 

The researchers in this study looked at how a contrast therapy consisting of 4 minutes in hot and 1 minute in cold (4:1) for 31 minutes compared to a 'control group' of doing 31 minutes of hot water and how that affected tissue temperature in the gastric at 4cm deep.  The study consisted of 20 participants and the warm was at 37deg-43deg C while the cold baths ranged in temperature from 12deg (53.6degF) to 15deg C.

What They Found:
Researchers found that the mean overall temperature change in the control (warm whirlpool) group to be significantly greater than that of the experimental (contrast therapy) group.  The did not find that the contrast group had significant changes in the tissue temperature through the 31 minutes and that at 11 minute mark there was very little change in tissue temperature.  This was in contrast to the control group that saw a gradual increase in temperature throughout the duration.

What It All Means:
As mentioned above contrast therapy is a modality that is commonly used in the subacute phase after the control of inflammation and pain has been achieved.  The thought of physiologically "flushing" the treated area has been relatively dispelled and shown to not truly occur.  There is thought that the tissue change could help in the healing process and the alternating of it can be something that works.  While this study shows that there wasn't enough change in tissue temperature to make a significant change it is only one protocol (4:1).  This is something that could be addressed and edited to see if using different lengths of time and/or temperatures could get a more desired effect.

In changing tissue temperatures you have to be careful to make sure there is no risk to the patient.  Lehmann reported that tissue temperature must reach at least 40degC (104degF)in order to produce significant physiologic response to heat, below this is typically placebo effects.  You would want to be very careful of getting temperatures to high or low as to make sure there is no risk to the patient but in most cases of young and healthy individuals you could go lower and higher.

While this research did not show specific significant results there is also nothing wrong with the placebo effect in that if this treatment helps aid an athlete in recovering from their injury or in prepping their body for the next activity then I think it is well worth utilizing.  It is a fairly inexpensive and could be helpful.  That always works for me.

Resource: Higgins, D.  Contrast Therapy Does Not Cause Fluctuations in Human Gastrocnemius Instramuscular Temperature.  Journal of Athletic Training.
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