Hydrotherapy refers to therapeutic use of water. It can be at any temperature or form, hot, cold, steam or ice. Ice packs, heated vaporizers, whirlpools, Jacuzzis, hot tubs and spas are a few good examples.
It was once called hydropathy, that included internal as well as the external use of water. Many scholars say the practice was first documented by the Greek physician Hippocrates early in the 5th century. He believed bathing in natural spring water promoted better health. But others cite some references to its use by eastern cultures predating that of Greece.
There are countless references recorded about it in ancient Egyptian, Greek and Roman civilizations. For example, communal public baths were commonplace in ancient Rome. Egyptians added flower essences and aromatic oils to their bath waters to promote healing. But, after the fall of the Roman Empire, things changed. Christian views on public nudity put a damper on the practice. There was little further interest until the dawn of the middle ages when physicians began recognizing medicinal benefits found in sulfur springs for skin diseases.
Hydrotherapy was often associated with the use of cold water. However, not all therapists limited their practice to it. The use of heat, often associated with the Turkish bath, was extremely popular. It wasn’t until the mid 1800s hydropathy became as common in the United States as it was in Europe.
Today, various forms of hydrotherapy are used in both alternative and conventional medicine as an accepted form of medical therapy. Cryotherapy, cold water immersion or ice baths, are widely used by physical therapists in sports medicine and rehabilitation facilities. Proponents have many technical explanations for how it works, but for simplicity’s sake, let’s just say it improves blood flow and decreases swelling in injuries, thereby facilitating the healing process.
This can be accomplished in several ways. Some therapists, depending on the nature of the problem, advocate contrast hydrotherapy. Basically this is using a combination of hot and cold alternating temperatures. Physicians point to improvement in circulatory system and lymphatic drainage.
Recent studies also show hydrotherapy benefits arthritis sufferers and patients rehabilitating from strokes, traumas and respiratory ailments as well as connective tissue damage. Additionally, it reduces stress, improves sleep patterns and relieves headaches by increasing endorphin production.
Other benefits of hydrotherapy reported are lower blood pressure and sugar levels in diabetes patients and reduced symptoms with multiple sclerosis, fibromyalgia, tendonitis, scoliosis, carpal tunnel syndrome and bursitis. When combined with water exercises such as swimming, it is also said to be an effective treatment for depression.
However, although hydrotherapy is considered for the most part a low risk practice, it can pose risks for certain people such as those with heart and lung diseases or circulation disorders. Physicians stress avoiding over exposure to heat or cold for extended periods and to drink adequate fluids to prevent dehydration.
There are other precautions to be considered:
· Strong water jets can aggravate muscular and joint injuries.
· Those with neuropathy or nerve damage can easily miscalculate water temperatures.
· Those with implanted medical devices such as pacemakers or pumps should be aware of possible damage that can occur.
· And pregnant women could also be at risk.