Managing Heel Pain: Can Contrast Baths Help?

If you've damaged your heel and are finding it hard to get things back to normal, then contrast baths may help speed up your recovery time. Using a mix of hot and cold water, contrast baths may make your foot feel more comfortable by encouraging it to heal. How do you make a contrast bath and what effects might it have on your heel pain?

How to Make Your Own Contrast Bath

Contrast bathing involves treating your heel with both hot and cold water in quick alternation.  For example, for a simple contrast bath, you could take two basins and fill one with hot water and one with cold water, ideally with ice in it. You would then put your foot in the hot water for a minute or two before immediately putting it in the cold basin for another minute. You then repeat the process two or three times.

If you don't want to mess around with water baths, you can get similar results by using heating pads or hot towels instead of hot water and ice packs or even packs of frozen vegetables instead of cold water.

How Do Contrast Baths Work?

It is thought that the mix of temperatures you put on your heel in a contrast bath forces the blood in your foot to work to its maximum potential in a more effective way than a single hot or cold treatment. This may be useful if you've had heel pain or inflammation that doesn't seem to be recovering naturally after a few days.

For example, putting your foot in hot water will open the blood vessels in your foot; cold water will then immediately close the vessels. Switching quickly between the two temperatures makes your foot pump blood quickly from alternating open and closed positions without putting any exercise stress on your sore heel.

This change in temperature and its effects on your blood's circulation may help to reduce general swelling and inflammation in your heel more effectively. If you can manage these problems, you may have less pain and may experience a quicker recovery time.

While contrast baths may help reduce your pain and any swelling you have, they may not be enough to deal with underlying issues or injuries that might be causing your problems. If your heel pain is still showing no signs of improvement, it may be worth making an appointment with a podiatrist to try to find the root cause of the problem. A podiatrist may recommend bathing as an option but may also be able to recommend other treatments such as massage, ultrasound or a gentle exercise program to fix your heel pain once and for all.