Hydrotherapy 101: Inflammation and cold therapy

Hydrotherapy is a big topic.  I love water and I like using it as therapy. “What should I use, heat or ice?” clients love to ask.  My quick answer is “Use both but end with ice. Always end with ice.” Heat has numerous wonders. Everybody loves heat. It’s the favored team in the Superbowl, and ice is the underdog.  The underdog has the slow creeping win. Ice surprises you in the 4th quarter with guts and glory, zest and vigor.

I want to highlight some benefits of ice because I get the feeling that some of my clients think I have a touch of  sadomasticist behavior everytime I reach for it. In fact, ice massage is incredibly healing. Here’s why:

Ice has an abrupt stimulus, which kicks your body into action. Superficial blood vessels at first constrict, causing blood to be sent down to deeper tissues. Then as you thaw out these same superficial blood vessels dilate like crazy, trying to redistribute warm blood to the places that cooled down. Red blood cells and white blood cell counts increase 70-100% with this new supply of blood. Another benefit is that cold penetrates deeper and longer than heat.

It is important to recognize the signs of inflammation: redness, heat, swelling, and pain. Redness is caused by the dilation of small blood vessels in the area of injury. Heat results from increased blood flow through the area and is experienced only in peripheral parts of the body such as the skin. Fever is brought about by chemical mediators of inflammation and contributes to the rise in temperature at the injury. Swelling, called edema is primarily caused by the accumulation of action.  All this action signals our trusty pain receptors to fire resulting in pain.

If you see feel these cardinal signs of inflammation you can probably guess what i’d recommend. Ice ice baby.

Your best friend

Ice a specific area for 20 minutes at a time with with one of these trusty gel packs which you can find at any Bartell’s or Walgreens. I always have a few in the freezer. They are great for headaches too.

Also very handy and even more specific is the ice cube-dixie cup.  Just fill up a few dixie cups with water and store them in your freezer.  The next time you have a kink in your neck or achy wrists and forearms, you’ll have a “cool” easy tool to ice down the area.

You'll want to marry it

The third icing tip I have is specifically for plantar fasciitis.  This is a pesky type of inflammation on the bottom of the foot. The plantar fascia extends from the heel bone to the five toes. It has been reported that two million Americans suffer from it often due to long periods of weight bearing, or with long periods of repetitive high impact, like in running. The symptoms are pain and numbness on the bottom of the foot, and are usually more severe in the morning with the first steps out of bed.  Stretching the foot before getting out of bed helps. Also icing before you go to sleep may decrease that inflammation and aid in healing faster over night.  Rolling  the foot over a frozen plastic water bottle is the best way (and cheapest way) to iron out the fibrotic tissue and cool down the inflammation.

Plantar Fasciitis "cold feet" massage

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