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The use of contrast therapy in soft tissue injury management and post-exercise recovery: a scoping review

Greenhalgh, Olivia and Alexander, Jill and Richards, Jim and Selfe, James and McCarthy, Chris (2020) The use of contrast therapy in soft tissue injury management and post-exercise recovery: a scoping review. Physical Therapy Reviews. pp. 1-9. ISSN 1083-3196

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Abstract

Contrast therapy is the alternation of thermotherapy and cryotherapy. Commonly used modalities of contrast therapy include contrast water therapy (CWT) and cold/hot packs. Despite a lack of research, it is widely used in clinical and sporting settings, particularly to aid recovery. The scoping review aims to provide a comprehensive overview of research surrounding the use of contrast therapy for soft tissue injury management and recovery. Twenty-nine full text papers were included, following a search of the databases listed: PubMed, Cochrane, SPORTDiscus, EBSCO, CINHAL and MEDLINE (via OVID). The majority of research on contrast therapy focuses on recovery, using contrast water therapy. Despite a consensus for contrast therapy temperatures of 10-15 °C (cold) and 38-40 °C (hot), significant variation amongst recovery protocols still exists, with temperatures ranging from 8-15 °C and 35.5-45 °C and duration ranging from 6 to 31 min. Generally, beneficial effects are reported to subjective measures such as self-reported perception of recovery, fatigue and muscle soreness following contrast therapy. However, the evidence is less clear regarding the influence on physiological measures and performance. Contrast therapy appears to be most commonly used in the form of contrast water therapy for post-exercise recovery purposes. There remains a significant lack of research surrounding the efficacy of contrast therapy for soft tissue injury management and the use of alternative modalities.

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