My Article This Month in NATURAL MEDICINE MAGAZINE: Hydrotherapy – What is it? And does it work??
HEALING WATERS – The Power of Hydrotherapy
My mother always says, whenever I feel blue, ‘take a nice, hot bath and you will feel better.’ Although it is not always that simple, a bath, whether hot in winter or cold in summer, does revive and refresh our inner beings!
There is no doubt about it – water has some kind of healing quality that restores balance to our souls. Besides the effect that water can have on our emotional wellbeing, various therapists also believe in the effect that water can have on our physical wellbeing…What is Hydrotherapy?
Hydrotherapy (water cure), also sometimes referred to as hydropathy, is the treatment of health-related problems with water – whether using much or no pressure, whether the water is hot or cold, or a combination of both.1 This can involve a vast variety of treatments, including: saunas, steam baths, hot and cold water compresses, foot baths, body wraps, mud packs, water jet spas and even a good old scrub at a Turkish bath!
Hydrotherapy is, however, far more than just a divine treat for a tired body. Professional hydrotherapists use hydrotherapy in treating serious conditions such as bronchitis, fibromyalgia, muscular weakness, digestive problems and more.
The Origins of Hydrotherapy
The use of hydrotherapy dates back to as early as 2400 BC.2 Hydro and hydrothermal therapy (using various temperatures of water) have been used by ancient cultures such as Rome, Greece, Egypt, China and Japan. Hippocrates (460 – 375 BC), the father of medicine, who had excellent understanding of the physiological properties of water, believed in the use of water, both hot and cold, for the treatment of fever, ulcers, haemorrhage and other conditions. Water therapy is certainly not something new.
After the use of water therapy by ancient cultures, the Middle Ages were marked by relative quietness surrounding this method of healing.3 In the 1800s, however, its use was re-popularised through research done by Vincent Priessnitz (Austria) and a Bavarian monk, Father Sebastian Kneipp. Today more and more people are turning to hydrotherapy as a natural and non-toxic way of treating illness.How Does It Work?
For someone who calls alternative medicine ‘airy-fairy’, it will probably be hard to believe that water can heal an ailment. Well, here is how it works – and it makes a lot of sense (and if the father physician, Hippocrates, believed it, you too should consider its value!):
By using hot and cold water applications, or using water as a way of massaging the body or a specific area of the body, the circulation of blood and lymphatic fluid is regulated and improved.4 By enhancing the blood and lymphatic circulation through the major organs of the body, we greatly increase the oxygen and nutrient delivery to the body tissues and remove the metabolic wastes and environmental and drug toxins that may have accumulated in the body – just imagine how good this can be for a sports injury or inflammation! Cold water discourages inflammation by means of vasoconstriction (constricting blood vessels), and by reducing the inflammatory agents by making the blood vessels less permeable, while hot water can help relax and soothe painful (or over-tense) muscles.5 A hydrotherapist will be able to guide you in the direct use of water for your specific injury or need.
Hydrotherapy techniques can also be used to ‘fire up’ the immune system and organs (the nerves carry impulses felt on the skin deeper into the body), stimulating the immune system for fighting acute illnesses such as colds, bronchitis and other serious infections.
How Can Hydrotherapy Help You?
The root behind many health problems, such as high blood pressure, headaches, digestive complaints, insomnia, depression and a weak immune system, is often stress. Hydrotherapy has been very successful in treating stress.6 Reducing stress through hydrotherapy (whether it’s a good mud bath or a swim in the luke-warm waters of Pammukale, http://www.pamukkale.net/) might just take care of those persistent headaches or tummy aches you have been experiencing!
Many hydrotherapists also believe that hydrotherapy can help with muscular endurance in the elderly, pulmonary rehabilitation in patients with asthma, sports injuries, fibromyalgia, spasticity in brain injury patients and rehabilitation after ligament surgery. If you are interested in doing some research on the topic, consider Andrew Cole’s Comprehensive Aquatic Therapy (2004) and James Wilon’s The Water-Cure: Stomach Complaints & Drug Diseases, Their Causes, Consequences, and Cure by Water (1843).
There is also a treatment known as colon hydrotherapy for people who suffer with various bowel conditions: (for more information on this natural treatment, see http://www.colonic-association.org/what-is-colon-hydrotherapy). You might also be familiar with the use of water therapy in labour and birth and in rehabilitating dogs.
Do you want a radiant complexion? Hydrotherapy to the rescue! Playing with the water temperature, hydrotherapists can use water to improve the efficiency of your perspiration glands. This will release toxins from your body, leaving you with a healthy, glowing complexion! The pressure from millions of bubbles on your skin can also increase oxygen flow, which reduces fluid retention and helps with cellulite… hmmm… sounds like a great plan!
If you are uncertain whether hydrotherapy can work for you, speak to a hydrotherapist near you (http://www.cylex.co.za/hydrotherapy.html) and ask how water therapy can improve your quality of life.
Considering that hydrotherapy excludes the dangerous toxins often involved in using conventional medicines, it is worth a try. Writer Mark Twain believed that the spring water at Aix-les-Bains (France) soothed his rheumatism. He described his experience as follows: “I began to take the baths and found them most enjoyable. So enjoyable that if I hadn’t had a disease I would have borrowed one just to have a pretext for going on.”7
Take Caution When…
Some people do need to take care, however, in considering hydrotherapy. If you are someone with impaired temperature sensation, you can run the risk of scalding or frostbite at extreme temperatures (so that is if you are like me who turns tomato red at the first touch of sunlight or a curious shade of purple when you cycle in winter).
If you have diabetes, avoid hot applications to the feet or legs and avoid body-heating treatments such as body wraps. If you have been diagnosed with Reynaud’s disease, avoid cold applications. Hot immersion baths and long, hot saunas are also not recommended for those with multiple sclerosis, women who are pregnant or anyone with high or low blood pressure or heart disease.
Long, hot treatments might also be too exhausting for elderly people and children. Avoid cold footbaths if you suffer from bladder or rectal irritation, sciatica, pelvic inflammation or rheumatism. In general, it is always better to consult a specialist to find out whether hydrotherapy will be good for you.
Water, Healing Water!
There is a wonderful, complex world of healing in hydrotherapy. Explore the restorative powers of water… become purified, replenished, revived and whole. “Water, cold, so cold! You cup your hands and gulp from them the dailiness of life!” (– Randall Jarrell)
1 What Is Hydrotherapy? [Internet]. No date [cited 2011 Oct 19]. Available from: URL: http://www.hydrotherapy.com/
2 Martin CW & Noertjojo K. Hydrotherapy. Review on the effectiveness of its application in physiotherapy and occupational therapy. [Internet]. 2004 May [cited 2011 Oct 21]. Available from: URL: http://www.worksafebc.com/health_care_providers/Assets/PDF/hydrotherapy_application_physiotherapy.pdf
3 Hydrotherapy: Historical Perspective. [Internet]. No date [cited 2011 Oct 22]. Available from: URL: http://www.holisticonline.com/hydrotherapy.htm
4 Southwest Naturopathic Medical Center. Hydrotherapy. [Internet] No date [cited 2011 Oct 19]. Available from: URL: http://www.scnm.edu/hydrotherapy.html
5 Alternative Medicine: Hydrotherapy. [Internet] No date [cited 2011 Oct 21]. Available from: URL: http://www.online-ambulance.com/altermed/grp/Hydrotherapy.htm
6 The Effect of Ultrasonic Bubbles. [Internet]. No date [cited 2011 Oct 10]. Available from: URL: http://www.hapaspa.com/html/spa6.html
7 Time Magazine. Medicine: Gurgle, Gargle, Guggle. [Internet]. No date [2011 Oct 22]. Available from: URL: http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,825126,00.html