Water therapy can be a wonderful addition to other forms of treatment, from the medical, to the chiropractic, and there are many benefits of hydrotherapy.
What is Hydrotherapy?
Hydrotherapy (which was also called hydropathy) encompasses a wide variety of therapies which are used in medicine, physical therapy, occupational therapy, and chiropractic care to utilize water for pain relief. This can be done by varying the water pressure or temperature, and it can employ massage or even “stimulate blood circulation”. It may be done with water jets, mineral baths, hot tubs, or cold plunge.1 It is thought that stimulating the nerves with heat, cold, and pressure can, in turn, stimulate the immune system, help with stress hormones, assist with digestion and circulation, and make pain sensitivity decrease.2
Hydrotherapy has ancient roots. Egyptians used essential oils, Romans had public baths, Japan had hot springs, and even Hippocrates prescribed “bathing in spring water for sickness”. Eventually, this therapy moved from the use of cold water to employing heat. While Europeans enjoyed hydrotherapy in the 19th century, the US did not have this as a common practice until about 1840. “Water-cures (were used) during the American Civil War”. Cryotherapy (cold water or ice bath) is still in use in sports rehabilitation and by physical therapists to stimulate blood flow and the lymphatic system. Some alternate cold and hot during the same session. This treatment has many medical and therapeutic applications, and it is still available in “spa towns”, where there are natural occurrences of “mineral-rich or hot water”.3
Types and Benefits of Hydrotherapy
External hydrotherapy immerses the patient in water. Temperature-based hydropathy uses hot water to relax the muscles (i.e., to treat poor circulation, sore muscles, arthritis, and rheumatism) and cold water to stimulate blood flow. Sitz baths are for submersion of the patient to treat menstrual cramps, prostate swelling, and hemorrhoids. Motion-based hydrotherapy uses water pressure to massage the body. It can help with injuries and stress. Internal hydropathy includes colonic irrigation or steam baths.4 Not only can the therapy enhance circulation, but it can increase endorphin production, which can benefit the immune system, reduce inflammation, and improve mood and energy. In fact, hot tub therapy has been found to lower the sugar in diabetics, decrease blood pressure, and alleviate the symptoms of other disorders (such as multiple sclerosis, carpal tunnel syndrome, scoliosis, tendonitis, and fibromyalgia). Vaporizers and hot tubs can be effective treatments during upper respiratory illnesses.5 Chiropractors also employ this treatment; some use hot baths, saunas, whirlpools, or wraps to promote blood flow and healing, and these therapies also reduce back pain.6 Other chiropractors have water massage tables, which use heat and pressure to help patients.