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Health Spa

Updated on March 1, 2012

A spa is a health resort, especially one that is located at a natural mineral spring and uses the mineral waters for therapeutic and restorative purposes in conjunction with other medically supervised health procedures. Spas primarily attract vacationers seeking healthful recreation in a pleasant environment. A spa guest typically spends two hours a day in the use of the prescribed spa facilities. The remaining time is spent largely resting or participating in recreational activities, such as golf, swimming, or other customary resort pastimes. Most spas are open only during certain seasons of the year, attracting vacationers when the local climate is at its best.

The word "spa" is taken from Spa, the name of a commune in Belgium where the mineral springs were favored for centuries by notables and royalty, including the Russian Czar Peter the Great and the German Kaiser William II. However, the use of mineral springs for therapeutic purposes dates back to the 5th century B.C., when hot springs in Greece and the Aegean Islands served as healing clinics. At one of these clinics on the island of Kos, the Greek physician Hippocrates practiced medicine for a while and wrote extensively on hydrotherapy.

The cult of curative bathing was spread by the Romans throughout Europe, and well-preserved spas built by the Romans still exist in places as far apart as Bath, England; Baden, Switzerland; and Tiberias, Israel. After the fall of Rome in the 5th century A.D., the number of spas decreased. It was not until the Renaissance that they once again became numerous. At a time of urban crowding and unsanitary conditions, spas provided an escape to pleasant surroundings.

Thermal baths of Harkány
Thermal baths of Harkány | Source

Spa Treatments and Procedures

Mineral waters are used both internally and externally. As drinking water they are prescribed for a variety of disorders, depending on their content of specific constituents, especially magnesium, calcium, iron (chalybeate water), chlorides, sulfates, carbonates, and bicarbonate. Other substances present in smaller or trace amounts also have important physiological effects. These substances include fluoride, iodine, and lithium.

Mineral waters prescribed include alkaline mineral waters for gastrointestinal ulcers and magnesium waters for liver diseases. Some mineral waters act as laxatives, and others are diuretics, increasing the production of urine. In addition to their use as drinking water, mineral waters are sometimes also prescribed for use in enemas or as aerosols for inhalation.

Externally, mineral waters are used in a wide variety of treatments. Among the more commonly used hydro-therapeutic treatments are mineral baths, whirlpool baths, underwater exercises, carbon dioxide baths using carbonated water, steam baths, wet packs or rubs, sitz baths, alternating hot and cold baths, and various sprays or high-pressure jets, as for douches. Heat is often an important factor in spa hydrotherapy.

It may be applied in the form of a sauna (a heated room with very low humidity), hot mud or peat packs, or hot paraffin packs.

Cold is also used in some forms of therapy, including ice massage, and the Kneipp method of treatment in 'which cold baths and applications are used to stimulate the circulation. Other treatments used in spas include massages and other manual manipulations, diathermy, exercises, hatha-yoga, and the use of gymnastic and physiotherapy equipment.

The typical two to three week stay at a spa may not only provide the usual improvement in sense of well-being, but, more important, may serve as a schooling period to establish better health habits that can be continued at home.

Especially in American spas, the emphasis is on the prevention of those chronic diseases known to be caused or aggravated by smoking, alcoholism, obesity, poor eating habits, and similar factors.

The rehabilitation of guests who have suffered cardiovascular, rheumatic, or metabolic disorders is also an aspect of spa therapy.

A new and fast-growing development among American spas is the comprehensive program that coordinates each person's diet, baths and physical therapy, exercise, and recreational activities.

The program is designed by the spa's medical director, who interviews and examines each person upon arrival. In the spas of Europe and elsewhere, the guest's diet, therapy, and other activities are generally not coordinated.

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