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Benefits of Hydrotherapy



Definition

Hydrotherapy, or water therapy, is the use of water (hot, cold, steam, or ice) to relieve discomfort and promote physical well-being. Hydrotherapy is a general term for a group of alternative treatments that use water for the relief of various diseases or injuries, or for cleansing the digestive tract. The use of hydrotherapy has a long history as a form of medical treatment. For example, in classical times the Romans and Greeks found sources of water that were considered to have healing properties.

Purpose

Hydrotherapy is used to treat a wide range of conditions, often in conjunction with conventional medical treatment. Hydrotherapy can soothe sore or inflamed muscles and joints, rehabilitate injured limbs, lower fevers, promote relaxation. The temperature of water used affects the therapeutic properties of the treatment. Hot water is chosen for its relaxing properties. It is also thought to stimulate the immune system. Tepid water can also be used for stress reduction, and may be particularly relaxing in hot weather. Cold water is selected to reduce inflammation. Alternating hot and cold water can stimulate the circulatory system and improve the immune system. Adding herbs and essential oils to water can enhance its therapeutic value.

Since the late 1990s, thermotherapy has been used in critical care units to treat a variety of serious conditions, including such disorders of the nervous system as Guillain-Barre syndrome.

External Hydrotherapy
External hydrotherapy involves the immersion of the body in water or the application of water or ice to the body.

Temperature-based treatments
These treatments are based on the different effects of hot or cold water on the skin and underlying tissues. Hot water (around 100 degrees F, 37.8 degrees C) relaxes muscles and causes sweating. It is used to treat arthritis, rheumatism, poor circulation, and sore muscles. Hot water hydrotherapy can be used in combination with aromatherapy by adding scented oils to the water. Cold water (60 degrees F, 15.6 degrees C) treatments are used to stimulate blood flow in the skin and underlying muscles.

Motion-based treatments
Motion-based hydrotherapy uses water under pressure in the form of jets, whirlpools or aerated bubbles to massage the body. It is used to treat joint and muscle injuries as well as stress and anxiety disorders.

Normal results
Normal results for hydrotherapy are symptomatic relief of the condition for which is was recommended. Additionally, hydrotherapy can strengthen both the individually focused area and the entire body.

Description

Origins
The therapeutic use of water has a long history. Ruins of an ancient bath were unearthed in Pakistan and ate as far back as 4500 B.C. Bathhouses were an essential part of ancient culture. The use of steam baths, aromatic massage to promote well being is documented since the first century. Roman physicians Galen and Celsus wrote of treating patients with warm and cold baths in order to prevent disease.

By the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries bathhouses were extremely popular with the public throughout Europe. Public bathhouses made their first American appearance in the mid 1700s.

In the early nineteenth century, Sebastien Kniepp, a Bavarian priest and proponent of water healing, began treating his parishioners with cold water applications after he himself was cured of tuberculosis through the same methods. Kniepp wrote extensively on the subject, and opened a series of hydrotherapy clinics known as the Kneipp clinics, which are still in operation today. Around the same time in austria, Vincenz Priessnitz was treating patients with baths, packs, and showers of cold spring water. Priessnitz also opened a spa that treated over 1,500 patients in its first year of operation, and became a model for physicians and other specialists to learn the techniques of hydrotherapy.

Water can be used therapeutically in a number of ways. Common forms of hydrotherapy include:

Preparations
Because of the expense of the equipment and the expertise required to administer effective treatment, hydrotherapy with pools, whirlpools, Hubbard tanks, and saunas is best taken in a professional healthcare facility and/or under the supervision of a healthcare professional. However, baths, steam inhalation treatments, and compresses can be easily administered at home.

Bath Preparations
Warm to hot bath water should be used for relaxation purposes, and a tepid bath is recommended for reducing fevers. Herbs can greatly enhance the therapeutic value of the bath for a variety of illnesses and minor discomforts.

Herbs for the bath can be added to the bath in two ways -- as essential oils or whole herbs and flowers. Whole herbs and flowers can be placed in a muslin or cheesecloth bag that is tied at the top to make an herbal bath bag. The herbal bath bag is then soaked in the warm tub, and can remain there throughout the bath. When using essential oils, add five to 10 drops of oil to a full tub. Oils can be combined to enhance their therapeutic value. Marjoram (Origanum Marjorana) is good for relieving sore muscles; juniper (Juniperus communis) is recommended as a detoxifying agent for the treatment of arthritis; lavender, ylang ylang (Conanga odorate), and chamomile (Chamaemelum nobilis) are recommended for stress relief, cypress (Cupressus sempervirens), yarrow (Achillea millefolium) geranium (Pelagonium graveolens), clary sage (Salvia scalria), and myrtle (Myrtus communis) can promote healing of hemorrhoids, and spike lavender and juniper (Juniperus communis) are recommended for rheumatism.

To prepare salts for the bath, add one or two handfuls of Epsom salts or Dead Sea salts to boiling water until they are dissolved, and then add them to the tub.

A sitz bath, or hip bath, can also be taken at home to treat hemorrhoids and promote healing of an episiotomy. There are special apparatus available for taking a seated sitz bath, but it can also be taken in a regular tub partially filled with warm water.

Hydrotherapy for Arthritis
Approximately 20 million Americans suffering from arthritis seek medical attention for their chronic, and sometimes acute, condition. Currently, there is no cure for arthritis, and conventional medical treatment is not entirely effective in preventing or stopping the pain and disability that results from arthritis. A variety of methods, allopathic and alternative, exist to manage the symptoms of arthritis. Exercise therapy has been proven effective in relieving pain and improving mobility -- however, for people with arthritis, normal exercise can be painful. Hydrotherapy offers a way to exercise and improve body functions without putting so much stress on your painful joints.

Hydrotherapy for Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA)
Hydrotherapy can be a beneficial form of treatment for individuals with arthritic conditions. During hydrotherapy, a person is submersed in water, either to soak or to exercise. A hydrotherapist can instruct a patient on the types of movements appropriate for his or her condition. Hydrotherapy can be especially useful to treat the joint pain and stiffness associated with rheumatoid arthritis ((RA). The painful swelling in the joints that occurs with rheumatoid arthritis has been shown to decrease with hydrotherapy. The warmth of the water is effective on the joints and soft tissues to decrease swelling and improve mobility in those joints. When you are in the water, the gravitational forces on the body are reduced; thus the joints have a lighter load to bear during exercise.

Hydrotherapy with warm water or jets can also help increase blood flow, delivering more oxygen-rich blood to areas of the body that need it. Warm water is soothing to the muscles and can release tension associated with arthritic conditions, decreasing pain and inflammation in arthritis patients. Several studies have shown that hydrotherapy is an effective treatment to ease the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis (RA).

Hydrotherapy for Osteoarthritis (OA)
Hydrotherapy can also be effective in helping those individuals with osteoarthritis (OA). Several studies have shown that strength training and aerobic exercise can reduce pain and improve the physical function and general health of people with osteoarthritis in their knees. Water's buoyancy offers an alternative method for getting exercise by allowing easier joint movement and being virtually impact-free, making it an excellent choice for people with painful joints.

To test the effectiveness of hydrotherapy, a study in Australia conducted a trial involving sedentary individuals with painful knee and/or hip osteoarthritis. Fifty-five participants attended water-exercise classes for one hour twice a week for 12 weeks. Assessments of the participants' pain and physical function were made before the beginning of the trial, after 12 weeks of classes, and again 12 weeks after the end of the classes. The hydrotherapy group showed significant improvement in function as well as reduction in pain. These clinical benefits were generally sustained for three additional months after the classes ended.

Hydrotherapy treatments can be used in conjunction with, but should not replace allopathic treatments for rheumatoid arthritis, especially during the early stages of the disease when researchers believe the most damage to joints and bones occurs. Consult your rheumatologist before taking any supplements or medication.

The Arthritis Foundation has found that the warmth and massage effect, as well as the simulated weightlessness of whirlpool baths can be a great benefit in alleviating the pain of this disease. Soaking in water relaxes muscles, which enables a wider range of motion with less pain and strain.

Other studies have shown that diabetes patients require reduced doses of insulin after hydrotherapy. In addition, some have lost weight or showed decreases in plasma glucose and glycosylated hemoglobin. Many have benefited from improved sleep as well as an improved sense of overall health.

Hydrotherapy offers considerable benefits for the disabled. These patients benefit specifically from increased blood flow to skeletal muscles, which can help prevent atrophy.

Hydrotherapy can also assist in recovery from stroke, brain injury, and orthopedic surgery; it can benefit women before and after giving birth. By relieving stress, it strengthens resistance to disease and promotes wellness.

Massage stimulates the lymphatic system and helps hasten the elimination of toxins (e.g., lactic acid) from the body.

Massage increase flexibility and range of motion, reduces inflammation, and increases joint mobility. It is used to relieve and even to help prevent sports injuries. It also improves muscle tone and circulation, and relieves neuromuscular problems.

In addition to all of the aforementioned benefits, hydrotherapy will help improve overall fitness, develop water-confidence, improve balance and coordination, and help relieve pain from work-related injuries.

Hydrotherapy focuses on relieving pain and discomfort as well as on responding to tension before it develops into disease, that is, before constrictions and imbalance can do further damage.

Hydrotherapy -- Whirlpools
Hydrotherapy, or water therapy, is one of the oldest, safest, and lease expensive methods for treating many common ailments. It is very popular at world-class health spas in Europe and elsewhere, but with the advent of hydro-massage whirlpools, it can no be experienced in the comfort and privacy of one's own home.

Tension and stress are unavoidable with today's hectic lifestyles. They can take a heavy toll on the body and mind, and the most effective source of relief is total relaxation.

Having a whirlpool spa in one's master bath is like having a personal masseuse available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, without the cost and inconvenience.

The warmth of the whirlpool's hot water relieves muscular pain and stiffness, while its hydro-massage feature relaxes the body and clears the mind. Whether to unwind from the complexities of everyday life, to relieve muscular pain, or just to allow more restful sleep, hydrotherapy contributes to well being .... naturally.

Discomfort caused by arthritis, sports injuries, or poor circulation can all be eased by regular sessions in a hydrotherapy whirlpool.

The treatment can also be beneficial for relief of the symptoms of colitis, gastritis, hemorrhoids, sciatica, fibromyalgia. It has been shown to be helpful in the treatment of high blood pressure, migraines, premenstrual cramps, varicose veins, and yeast infections. Many physicians and therapists recommend hydrotherapy as part of a rehab program following surgery or injury.

Muscle pain leads to bad posture, which in turn stiffens and tenses the muscles even more. One way to break this vicious cycle is to gently massage the affected areas.

The water and air forced through the jet nozzles of the whirlpool creates such an action. This relieves muscle tensions in six areas of the body: neck, shoulder, mid-back, lower back, thighs, and feet.

The buoyancy of the water reduces body weight by approximately 85-90%, relieving pressure on joints and muscles, while creating the relaxing sensation of weightlessness. The effects of turbulence and buoyancy combined with warm water help to ease pain and reduce muscle spasm.

Immersion in hot water raises body temperature; the massaging bubbles stimulate circulation by dilating blood vessels, enabling them to carry more oxygen and nutrients. This helps to revitalize and renew worn and damaged tissue.

Stimulating pressure points with massage and heat triggers the release of endorphins, the neurochemicals that relieve pain. As a result, pain is blocked and the flow of blood and oxygen to the affected area is increased. This causes the muscles to relax and promotes healing; it also slows and deepens breathing. Adding aromatic fragrances to the water will heighten the experience and help the patient sleep more easily and deeply.

Arthritis is a family of over a hundred separate diseases, including rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, ankylosing spondylitis, gout and lupus. By some estimates, one out of every three families has someone who suffers from this condition.

Today's whirlpools have gone far beyond their humble origins of hydro-massage therapy. High-end units now feature the most advanced design and technology available.

Research and General Acceptance
Hydrotherapy treatments are used by both allopathic and complementary medicine to treat a wide variety of discomforts and disorders.

Resources:

Books
Chaltow, Leon. Hydrotherapy: Water Therapy for Health and Beauty. Boston, MA: Element Books, 1999.

Pelletier, Dr. Kenneth R. The Best Alternative Medicine, Part 1: Naturopathic Medicine. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2002.

Periodicals
Baird, Carol L. "First-Line Treatment for Osteoarthritis: Part 2: Nonpharmacologic Interventions and Evaluation." Orthopaeodic Nursing 20 (November-December 2001); 13-20.

Barker, K.K., H. Dawes, P. Hansford, and D. Shamley. "Perceived and Measured Levels of Exertion of Patients with Chronic Back Pain Exercising in a Hydrotherapy Pool." Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation 84 (September 2003); 1319-1323.

Cider, A., M. Schaufelberger, K.S. Sunnerhagen, and B. Andersson. "Hydrotherapy-A New Approach to Improve Function in the Older Patient with Chronic Heart Failure." European Journal of Heart Failure 5 (August 2003); 527-535.

Johnson Kate. "Hydrotherapy Greatly Eases Delivery Stress, Pain." OB GYN News 34 (November 1999); 27.

Keegan, L. "Therapies to Reduce Stress and Anxiety." Critical Care Nursing Clinics of North America 15 (September 2003); 321-327

Mayhall, C.G. "The Epidemiology of Burn Wound Infections: Then and Now." Clinical Infectious Diseases 37 (August 15, 2003); 543-550.

Molter, N.C. "Creating a Healing Environment for Critical Care." Critical Care Nursing Clinics of North America 15 (September 2003); 295-304.

Taylor, S. "The Ventilated Patient Undergoing Hydrotherapy: A Case Study." Australian Critical Care 16 (August 2003); 111-115.

Organizations
The American Association of Naturopathic Physicians. 8201 Greensboro Dr., Ste. 300, McLean, Virginia 22102. (206) 298-0126. http//naturopathic.org.

Canadian Naturopathic Association/Association canadienne de naturopathie. 1255 Sheppard Avenue East at Leslie, North York, ON M2K 1E2 (800) 551-4381 or (416) 496-8633. http://www.naturopathicassoc.ca

Definitions:
Hydrotherapy / hy-dro-ther-a-py/ (-ther'ah-pe) the application of water, usually externally, in the treatment of disease.

hy-dro-ther-a-py ((hi-dro-ther'a-'pe) n.
External use of water in the medical treatment of certain diseases.

The American Heritage® Dictionary Copyright ©2007, 2004 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.

hydrotherapy (hi-dro-the-re-pe) n.
Therapeutic modalities that use water, such as whirlpools or Sitz baths.

Jonas: Mosby's Dictionary of Complementary and Alternative Medicine (c) 2005, Elsevier.

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