Foot Health

How to Use Contrast Bath Therapy to Heal a Sprained Ankle

By speeding up the body's natural healing process, contrast bath therapy can help alleviate the pain and swelling caused by ankle sprains.

Dr. Hassan Portrail
Dr. Mohammed Hassan
27 January 2022
constrast bath therapy for healing

Ankle sprains are the most common type of soft tissue injury seen in the clinic. Most patients with this issue have minor bruising without any rupture of the ligaments (ligaments hold bones together) or the tendons (tendons attach muscle to bone). Not all ankle sprains result from diseased bone or require surgery. Often conservative treatment — rest, ice, elevation, and physical therapy — are enough to allow you to resume normal activities after healing takes place. Some patients may still feel unstable and prone to repeat ankle sprains despite physical therapy and rehab. In those cases, wearing an ankle gauntlet brace usually helps them to maintain proper alignment, improve function, and reduce sprains. We often recommend contrast bath therapy as a helpful kind of therapy for patients to perform at home.

What Is a Contrast Bath?

Contrast bath therapy is a special way to soak body parts in alternating warm and cool baths. The procedure has been in practice for over 2,000 years to help reduce fatigue, soreness, and swelling.

How Contrast Bath Therapy Works

Because you start in a sitting position, you’re already preparing to feel comfortably relaxed. Soaking for a few minutes in warm water opens the blood vessels and allows the blood to bring more oxygen and nutrients to your foot as it carries away waste products from the cells. Switching then to cold water causes the blood vessels to constrict. After one minute you switch back to warm water. The alternating temperatures cause the blood vessels to repeatedly widen and narrow, making them work similarly to an old-fashioned water pump! In addition to boosting your circulation, the shock of temperature change is thought to trigger the inflammation cycle and speed healing.

Benefits of Contrast Bath Therapy

This form of therapy can help reduce the symptoms of a sprained ankle such as swelling, inflammation, and pain. If additional treatment is needed, imaging tests such as an MRI are available. Patients with other conditions including anxiety, asthma, fibromyalgia, hemorrhoids, plantar fasciitis, rheumatoid arthritis, and labor pain have benefitted from this form of hydrotherapy.

Home Instructions for Contrast Bath Therapy

  • You’ll need two basins or buckets, two clean towels, a timer, a thermometer, and an ACE wrap or similar elastic bandage (available at groceries, pharmacies, and superstores).
  • Use the bathroom before beginning the therapy!
  • Partially fill one basin with warm water 95-113°F.
  • Partially fill the second basin with cool water from the tap 50-59°F.
  • Place the affected foot in the warm water for four minutes.
  • Switch to the cold water bath for one minute.
  • Repeat this cycle four additional times for a total of 20 minutes.
  • While your foot is in the water, do range of motion activities with your big toe. You can pretend your toe is a paintbrush and write imaginary letters of the alphabet or Chinese characters.
  • When finished, dry your foot.
  • Elevate the foot for 20 minutes.
  • Gently apply the ACE bandage snugly at the base of the toes, gradually circling upward and overlapping at each wrap. The bandage should be smooth without tightness, binding, or wrinkles. You should feel more pressure in the foot that’s graded around the ankle and up the calf to provide support and compression.

You should start to feel less swollen afterward.
Perform Contrast Bath Therapy once daily. Twice daily baths are recommended on busier days.
Continue for at least four weeks.

Frequently Asked Questions

What if I don’t have a thermometer at home?

You can estimate the warmth of the water by dipping your wrist in it: it should be warm without being hot enough to cause steam or burning. Cold water from the tap is acceptable.

What if I can’t continue for 20 minutes?

Continue for as many cycles as you can comfortably do.

What if I have trouble wrapping the ACE bandage?

Practice beforehand if you can. Packaging on new bandaging sometimes contains directions. If you can’t find directions online, you can phone a home care nurse if you have one or Dr. Hassan’s office.

Does it matter what time of the day I Contrast Bath Therapy?

Unless Dr. Hassan’s office suggests a specific time, do it when you’re awake and alert so you can keep track of the time and apply the ACE wrap.

What if putting my foot in the water makes me have to go to the bathroom?

Visiting the bathroom first is advisable!

What if I skip a day?

You can resume the following day.

What if my foot is bleeding?

Postpone the therapy and phone the office for further directions.

Does Contrast Bath Therapy work for everybody?

People’s conditions are different and may not all respond to the same kinds of treatment. Dr. Hassan tailors each Plan of Care to the individual patient for the best results.

If you have any questions or concerns, don’t hesitate to call the office! Dr. Hassan’s goal is to resolve your pain and improve function so your recovery will be as easy and stress-free as possible. As a caring supporter of Integrative Medicine techniques, he uses a wide variety of conventional as well as holistic healing methods to give you the best outcome.