What is Hydrotherapy?
Hydrotherapy is the use of water to revitalize, maintain, and restore health. Hydrotherapy treatments include saunas, steam baths, foot baths, sitz baths, and the application of cold and hot water compresses.
Father Sebastian Kneipp, a 19th century Bavarian monk, is said to be the father of hydrotherapy. Kneipp believed that disease could be cured by using water to eliminate waste from the body. Hydrotherapy is popular in Europe and Asia, where people "take the waters" at hot springs and mineral springs. In North America, it is often recommended as self-care by naturopathic doctors.
There is a physiological basis to hydrotherapy. Cold is stimulating, and it causes superficial blood vessels to constrict, shunting the blood to internal organs. Hot water is relaxing, causes blood vessels to dilate, and removes wastes from body tissues. Alternating hot can cold water also improves elimination, decreases inflammation, and stimulates circulation.
What a Typical Hydrotherapy Treatment is Like
Hydrotherapy treatments are often given at health spas or recommended as home self-care treatments. These are some types of hydrotherapy:
- Sitz bath - There are 2 adjacent tubs of water, one hot and one cold. You sit in one tub with your feet in the other tub, and then alternate. Sitz baths are recommended for hemorrhoids, PMS and menstrual problems, cystitis, polyps.
- Warm water baths - Soak in warm water for up to 30 minutes, depending on the condition. Epsom salts, mineral mud, aromatherapy oils, ginger, moor mud, and dead sea salts may be added.
- Sauna - Dry heat
- Steam bath or Turkish bath
- Compresses - Towels are soaked in hot and/or cold water.
- Wraps - Cold wet flannel sheets are used to cover the a person lying down. The person is then covered with dry towels and then blankets. The body warms up in response and dries to wet sheets. This is used for colds, bronchitis, skin disorders, infection, and muscle pain.
- Wet sock treatment - Used for sore throat, ear infections, headaches, migraines, nasal congestion, upper respiratory infections, coughs, bronchitis, and sinus infections.
- Hot fomentation - For treatment of acute conditions such as chest colds and coughs. It seems to relieve symptoms but also decrease the length of the illness.