The healing properties of hydrotherapy are based on its mechanical and/or thermal effects. It makes use of the body’s reaction to hot and cold stimuli, to the protracted application of heat, to the pressure exerted by the water, and to the sensation of the water itself. Nerves carry what is felt by the skin deeper into the body, where it is then vital in stimulating the immune system, influencing the production of stress hormones, improving circulation and digestion, encouraging the flow of blood, and lessening the body’s sensitivity to pain.
Generally speaking, heat is used to quiet and soothe the body, and to slow down the activity of internal organs. Cold is used to stimulate and invigorate, increasing internal activity within the body. If you are experiencing tense muscles or anxiety, heat is recommended in the shower or bath. For feeling tired and stressed out, it is recommended to take a warm shower or bath followed by a short cold shower to help stimulate the body and mind.
When submerged in a body of water such as a bath or a pool, there is a kind of weightlessness, as the water relieves your body of much of the effects of gravity. Water also has a hydrostatic effect and has a massage-like feeling as the water gently kneads your body. Water, when it is moving, stimulates the touch receptors on the skin, increasing blood circulation and releasing tight muscles.
Under the general heading of hydrotherapy, there are several techniques. These include baths and showers, neutral baths, sitz baths, contrast sitz baths, foot baths, cold mitten friction rub, steam inhalation, hot compresses, cold compresses, alternating hot and cold compresses, heating compresses, body wrap, wet sheet pack, and salt glow.
External hydrotherapy involves the immersion of the body in water or the application of water or ice to the body, while temperature-based hydrotherapy involve the different effects of hot or cold water on the skin and underlying tissues. Hot water relaxes muscles and causes sweating, and is used to treat arthritis, rheumatism, poor circulation, and sore muscles. It can be used in combination with aromatherapy. Cold water hydrotherapy is used to stimulate blood flow in the skin and underlying muscles. Temperature based treatments include the application of moist heat or cold to specific parts of the body. The application of moist heat is called fomentation, and is used for conditions such as chest cold, flu, or arthritis. Cold compresses or ice packs are used for sprains, headaches, or dental surgery. Body packs are used to calm psychiatric patients and for detoxification.
Sitz baths are where the patient sits in a specially made tub that allows the lower abdomen to be submerged in water that is a different temperature to the water around the feet. These baths are recommended for haemmorhoids, prostate swelling, menstrual cramps, and other genitourinary disorders. Motion-based hydrotherapy uses water under pressure such as in a spa, to massage the body and is commonly used for muscle or joint injuries as well as for stress and anxiety. Internal hydrotherapy includes colonic irrigation and enemas. Steam baths are also a form of internal hydrotherapy.
Hydrotherapy is used to treat many illnesses and conditions including:
It is also commonly used for relaxation and to maintain a person’s state of health. Hydrotherapy is also excellent for reducing or relieving sudden or long-lasting pain.
The benefits of hydrotherapy include:
Cold baths should not be used for young children or the elderly. Sauna baths should be avoided by people that suffer from heart conditions.