Hydrotherapy is considered to be a "water cure" as it utilizes water for the purposes of healing and the treatment of a variety of diseases. Hydrotherapy works by using the buoyancy property of water, the effect of the water's turbulence and the water's warmth to reduce discomfort, pain, spasms or stress and to encourage a swift recovery after surgery has been undertaken. Hydrotherapy is used in the treatment of many disorders and diseases such as asthma, arthritis, neck, back and knee injuries, hyperthermia, pain and wound healing, varicose veins, pulmonary disease, swollen ankles, work or sports-related injuries and many other ailments. It has also been found to be beneficial during childbirth. For example, in the United Kingdom the use of birthing pools for pregnant women who pose a low obstetric risk are becoming increasingly common.
History of Hydrotherapy
Hydrotherapy dates back to 4th century BC when Greek physician Hippocrates recognized the healing that was possible by both natural hot and cold springs. Hippocrates encouraged others to both bathe as well as drink water from springs to reap all of its healing effects.
The Roman people were true believers in the therapeutic benefits of hot springs and constructed their share of communal baths. Other early cultures that saw the value in hydro-and hydrothermal therapy included the ancient Chinese, Japanese and Native Americans.
The use of water as therapy lost some of its popularity in the late 18th century but was revived in the 19th century by a Bavarian monk named Father Sebastian Kneipp who saw the imminent value in water treatments for what ails the body.
The Practice of Water Therapy
Today hydrotherapy can be put to use in a variety of ways. Most forms of hydrotherapy are made use of in clinical and/or health and wellness settings (such as spas) and are overseen by qualified professionals such as massage therapists, physical therapists or naturopaths. Some of the methods include saunas, wraps, packs, a number of types of douches (arm, knee, chest, neck, back, etc.), water-based exercise, steam baths, whirlpool soaking, hot or cold compresses, swimming, icing sprains and colonic irrigation
However using water to heal in the privacy of your own home is possible as well. Regular baths and showers are healing for the entire body. The full bath should be warm, not scalding hot (90 to 95 degree Fahrenheit is advisable) and it should be full enough to be shoulder deep. Baths are relaxing to the nervous system, and beneficial for head colds, low grade fevers, and bladder infections as well as other urinary tract problems.
There are also sitz baths (which are water treatments for the rear end, hips and lower abdomen), footbaths and vapor baths. A sitz bath should contain enough water to immerse the lower half of the body only. These baths are common after an operation or if a person needs assistance with bathing. A sitz bath of cold water or one where warm water is followed by cold is extremely helpful for disorders that affect the reproductive system or abdomen, pelvic inflammation, congestion or cramps, menstrual pain or problems, kidney and intestinal pain and hemorrhoids.
A footbath is exactly that- the ankles and feet (and sometimes the lower half of the calves) are placed in a deep pan or pot of water and soaked or washed. If one's feet are very cold, a hot (but not scalding hot!) footbath that lasts around 15 minutes is recommended and can be very beneficial. A hot footbath can also aid in terms of inflammations of the ear, throat, kidneys or bladder. Tired or sore, achy feet would benefit from a cold footbath to revive them and make them return to a more comfortable state. In order to encourage better circulation in the legs or if you suffer from varicose veins, frequent headaches, high blood pressure, arthritis and/or insomnia you might want to indulge in a footbath where you alternate between hot and cold water.
A hot and cold alternating bath can also benefit problems experienced in the hands and fingers such as stiffness and arthritic joints because the hot and cold, one right after the other, helps to stimulate the flow of blood and increases circulation. Here's how to do it- fill one bowl or pan with water that is as hot as you can stand it without burning yourself, while the pan next to it is filled with cold, cold water (you can put ice in the water if you like). Place your hands (or feet) in the pan of hot water to a count of one minute and then take them out and put them in the cold water for twenty seconds. Then alternate back and forth between the hot and cold until ten minutes has elapsed. Make sure you end the bath with your hands taking a final dive into the cold water. If you have a double sink in your kitchen or bathroom you can forego bowls or pans and use those instead. People with diabetes are not advised to try the warm footbath nor the alternating hot/cold footbath. Body wraps are also not advisable for those suffering from diabetes. As well if you have Raynaud's disease avoid any form of cold baths or cold water applications.
The hot/cold alternating foot and hand baths work so well because heat is soothing and quieting to the body and decreases the activity that is going on inside the body's organs. It also improves the flow of blood by causing blood vessels to dilate, relieves pain and discomfort and eases the tension in muscles. Cold, depending on the circumstances of the pain or injury can be either soothing to the body or invigorating and increases the activity of the internal organs.
Hydrotherapy is also helpful in improving and stimulating the digestive system, the immune system and toning the body. It is therapeutic in fighting stress and "perking up" the body when it is overworked or tired. Hydrotherapy is beneficial to the muscles, skin and has a soothing quality to the heart, lungs, stomach and endocrine system by increasing the speed of nerve reflexes traveling up and down the spinal column.