What is hydrotherapy? In essence, it’s the use of water therapy for medical treatment. Water may be in the form of ice, steam, water vapor, or liquid and used internally or externally. Hydrotherapy reduces discomfort by reducing aches and pains, promotes well-being, and relaxes the body.
Origin of Hydrotherapy
Therapeutic use of water dates far back as 4500 BC as evidenced from ruins of ancient baths discovered in Asia. Public bathhouses formed an essential part of Roman culture where steam baths and aromatics were used to promote well-being since the first century. Roman physicians treated patients with warm and cold baths to prevent disease.
Benefits of Hydrotherapy
Hydrotherapy is used in fitness centers and gyms to soothe sore and inflamed muscles and joints. It can soothe headaches, promote calmness and relaxation, treat burns, and relieve frostbites. Hydrotherapy is effective both with hot and cold water, depending on the condition. Hot water is used for its relaxing effect, and thought to stimulate the body’s immune system. Cold water reduces inflammation. When hot and cold water are alternatively used, it stimulates circulation. Steam is used to treat respiratory problems, and steam bath is effective in clearing up blocked sinuses.
Breast cancer patients treated with hydrotherapy noticed a reduction in pain threshold. An aquatic exercise program conducted in deep water was effective for improving cancer-related fatigue and strength in breast cancer survivors.
Common Forms of Hydrotherapy
- Whirlpools, Jacuzzis, and hot tubs: Most modern bathrooms are fitted with Jacuzzis and hot tubs, which use jet streams to massage the body. It helps injured patients regain muscle strength.
- Pools: Underwater pool exercises are a popular low-impact way of rebuilding muscle strength in injured patients. The buoyancy produced when the body is immersed in water helps ease pain in arthritic conditions. The Aquatic Program was devised by The Arthritis Foundation and has shown promising outcomes in improving isometric strength and range of motion.
- Showers: Water from shower jets stimulates circulation, and massages sore muscles. Shower-based hydrotherapy is beneficial for burn patients.
- Steam baths and saunas: Steam rooms open skin pores and rid toxins from the body.
- Hot or warm compresses: Cold compresses decrease swelling and inflammation by constricting blood vessels and reducing circulation to the affected area, thereby reducing swelling. It also cools a fever. Hot or warm compresses are used for muscle aches. Heat packs expand blood vessels and increase circulation, helping to relax muscles and reduce pain. Warm water in the form of a bath, massaging water jets, or hot tub also provides relaxation and stress relief. The use of water for heating and cooling the body is also called hydrothermal therapy.
Sources for this article include:
- Cantarero-Villanueva I et al. Aquatic exercise in a chest-high pool for hormone therapy-induced arthralgia in breast cancer survivors: a pragmatic controlled trial. Clin Rehabil. 2013 Feb;27(2):123-32.
- Cantarero-Villanueva I et al. The effectiveness of a deep water aquatic exercise program in cancer-related fatigue in breast cancer survivors: a randomized controlled trial. Arch Phys Med Rehabil. 2013 Feb;94(2):221-30.