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Health Benefits of Balneotherapy

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Updated January 29, 2013

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Balneotherapy involves treating health problems by bathing, usually in hot springs and other naturally mineral-rich waters. Long practiced in traditional medicine systems all over the world, balneotherapy is often offered at spa, wellness centers, and hot springs resorts. Proponents claim that balneotherapy can help treat a number of health conditions, including arthritis, respiratory disorders and high blood pressure.

Health Benefits of Balneotherapy

Balneotherapy is thought to promote healing by increasing circulation, encouraging detox and easing stress. In addition, the minerals found in hot springs (such as sulfur and magnesium) are said to fight off illness by nourishing the organs and stimulating the immune system. Although few studies have tested these health claims, some research suggests that balneotherapy may help with certain conditions. Here's a look at several key study findings.

1) Arthritis

Mineral baths may be somewhat helpful for people with osteoarthritis, according to a 2008 review published in the Journal of Rheumatology. Analyzing seven trials (with a total of 498 patients), investigators found evidence that balneotherapy was more effective than no treatment at all. However, the review's authors warn that this evidence is weak, due to the poor quality of the trials.

Similarly, a 2003 review from the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews looked at six trials (with a total of 355 participants) and found some evidence that balneotherapy can help treat rheumatoid arthritis. Due to major flaws in the studies, however, the review's authors caution that this is evidence is inconclusive.

2) Fibromyalgia

Balneotherapy may help treat fibromyalgia, according to a small study published in Rheumatology International in 2002. For the study, 42 fibromyalgia patients were assigned to either a control group or three weeks of 20-minute bathing sessions (administered once a day, five times a week). Study results showed that those treated with balneotherapy showed significant improvements in some fibromyalgia symptoms and in depression (a common problem among people with fibromyalgia).

3) Low Back Pain

In a 2005 study from Research in Complementary and Natural Classical Medicine, scientists found that bathing in sulphurous mineral water may help alleviate low back pain. Compared to 30 back-pain patients who underwent a tap-water-based hydrotherapy treatment, the 30 patients in the balneotherapy group showed greater improvements in muscle spasms, tenderness, and flexibility.

Using Balneotherapy for Health

If you're interested in using balneotherapy to prevent or manage a specific health problem, make sure to consult your physician before beginning treatment.

Sources

Balogh Z, Ordögh J, Gász A, Német L, Bender T. "Effectiveness of balneotherapy in chronic low back pain -- a randomized single-blind controlled follow-up study." Forsch Komplementarmed Klass Naturheilkd. 2005 Aug;12(4):196-201.

Evcik D, Kizilay B, Gökçen E. "The effects of balneotherapy on fibromyalgia patients." Rheumatol Int. 2002 Jun;22(2):56-9.

Verhagen AP, Bierma-Zeinstra SM, Cardoso JR, de Bie RA, Boers M, de Vet HC. "Balneotherapy for rheumatoid arthritis." Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2003;(4):CD000518.

Verhagen A, Bierma-Zeinstra S, Lambeck J, Cardoso JR, de Bie R, Boers M, de Vet HC. "Balneotherapy for osteoarthritis. A cochrane review." J Rheumatol. 2008 Jun;35(6):1118-23.

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