Water therapy can be a wonderful addition to complement other forms of traditional and alternative treatment, from the standard medical procedures to the chiropractic, and there are many benefits of 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 could 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 regulate and control stress hormones, assist with digestion and circulation, and allow the patient’s pain and sensitivity to it decrease.2
Hydrotherapy has ancient roots throughout the history of many regions of the world. Egyptians used essential oils, Romans had public baths, Japan had hot springs, and even Hippocrates prescribed “bathing in spring water for sickness”. These regions still have a modern version of these practices. 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 practitioners of the field of hydrotherapy choose to alternate cold and hot during the same session for some patients. 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”. General public spa house dress code ranges from bathing suits to in the nude, so patients may want to look into what type of establishment they are comfortable with visiting when they are not looking for professional care.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 is used to stimulate blood flow. Sitz baths are for partial, lower-body submersion of the patient to treat menstrual cramps, prostate swelling, and hemorrhoids. These can be used at home. Motion-based hydrotherapy uses water pressure to massage the body in a way that is similar to what could be provided by a massage therapist. The motion of the water can help with injuries and stress reduction. Internal hydropathy includes colonic irrigation or steam baths.4 Not only could the therapy enhance circulation, but it might increase endorphin production, which may benefit the immune system, reduce inflammation, and improve mood, and increase 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. The steam produced by the hot water is safe and very beneficial for inhalation.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.
Aromatherapy, like hydrotherapy, is a natural and safe complementary treatment that is used to heal and relax patients. Aromatherapy works by using essential oils through inhalation, topically, or, sometimes, through consumption to treat the patient’s ailments. Both aromatherapy and hydrotherapy work on the principle that natural mind-body intervention methods are the best treatment options. The essential oils used in aromatherapy are highly concentrated plant oils. They are often diluted when applied topically, to be absorbed by the body into the bloodstream, by other oils that carry their own benefits. The inhalation benefits of both aromatherapy and hydrotherapy include relief of respiratory tract problems. Massage is very often paired with aromatherapy, with the massage therapist using strokes to apply the essential oils and relieve muscle aches, pains, and migraines. The two therapies can be further combined with an aromatic bath. Oils and other plant products can be added to the water for both topical application and inhalation. Compresses may also be utilized as a way to apply aromatic salts to the body, which is another way to treat muscular aches, varicose veins, sprains, menstrual cramps, and respiratory congestion. Before and after any therapy session, from massage to chiropractic to hydrotherapy, patients need to remember to drink plenty of water to keep the bodily toxins, which have been loosened by therapy, moving on their way out of the body.7