Hydrotherapy, or water therapy as it is also known centres around (as you’ve probably guessed) the use of water as a healing agent. The buoyancy, viscosity and mineral components of water are used through hydrotherapy to heal or relieve ills as varied as fatigue, sore throats, colds, inflammation of the joints, jaundice, rheumatism, arthritis, spondylitis, insomnia, soft tissue injuries and even diabetes.

As an alternative system of healing, hydrotherapy is one of the oldest, safest and cheapest- which is definitely part of the reason why it’s swiftly gaining in popularity.

Hydrotherapy is no upstart; it’s been around for more than 5,000 years, when the first mineral and thermal baths appeared in Greece.The Greeks, however, were not the only people to realize the healing powers of water. They were followed in their appreciation of the therapeutic liquid by the Romans (who are credited with having set up well-planned baths all across their empire); the Egyptians, the Japanese and the native Indian Americans. Most modern techniques borrow from both Eastern and Western forms of water therapy, and span a vast range of treatments. Basically, hydrotherapy is instrumental in stimulating blood circulation, increasing the production of stress hormones, improving the immune system and lessening pain sensitivity.

Hydrotherapy is used as a technique of physiotherapy for people recovering from serious injuries and with problems of muscle wastage. It is also used for people with joint problems and those with severe physical disabilities.

The most common curative methods used in hydrotherapy include:

Hydrotherapy Cold Baths: Cold baths are used mainly as a means of stimulating blood circulation, and are also used for reducing swelling. Cold baths, improve blood flow to internal tissues and organs. It help to reduce swelling. This method is not advisable for people with serious conditions or for the elderly or very young.

Hydrotherapy Steam Baths: Hot steam helps encourage sweating, which in turn opens the skin’s pores, leaving the individual feeling refreshed and rejuvenated. It’s not specifically healing, but it works wonders if you’re feeling tired and drained, and can be an effective means of detoxification.

Hydrotherapy Sitz baths: are given as treatment for painful conditions with broken skin, such as piles or anal fissure, and also for ailments affecting the urinary and genital organs.
For this, the person first sits in the warm water, which covers the lower abdomen and hips, with the feet in the cold water compartment. After three minutes, the patient sits in the cold water with the feet in the warm compartment.

Hydrotherapy Neutral Baths: A neutral bath-as the name suggests- uses water that is neither hotter nor colder than the temperature of the human body (cold or hot water draws or transmits heat to or from the body, as the case may be). For a neutral bath, the individual is immersed in water that is maintained at a steady temperature of between 33.5C and 35.6, for about half an hour. This has a sedative, and even soporific, effect on the patient and is used to calm the nervous system.

Hydrotherapy Floatation: As relaxing and refreshing as a neutral bath, floatation involves lying face up in a dark, enclosed tank of warm, heavily salted water. Hydrotherapy Hot and Cold Sprays: High-pressure spray jets of hot or cold water are used to heal or relieve a number of minor ailments, and mainly to stimulate organ function, the nervous system and the immune system.

Hydrotherapy Hot and Cold Compresses: Both hot as well as cold compresses actually start off as cold compresses- a cloth dipped in ice-cold water and left on the effected part of the body for a certain period of time. In the case of a cold compress, the pack is replaced by an equally cold pack once it begins to lose its chill. In the case of a hot compress, the pack is left on and allowed to heat up by the warmth of the body. Both types of compresses are used in various ways, especially to treat acute injuries.

Hydrotherapy Ice Packs: Ice packs- which contain crushed ice or a special gel- are applied to the body to reduce swelling, pain and inflammation.

Hydrotherapy Wet Sheet Packs: A wet sheet pack (also known as a body wrap) is, as the name suggests, a procedure in which the entire body is wrapped in a cold, wet sheet that is in turn covered with a woolen blanket. The sheet is left in place until it dries by the warmth of the body (usually about half an hour to relieve a fever; longer to relax and soothe the body; or up to 3 hours to induce sweating, which can be a good detoxification method for those with drinking or smoking problems).

Herbal baths can be particularly soothing when you are experiencing a period of stress. There are several ways to prepare an herbal bath:

  • Simmer 1/2 cup of herbs in 1 quart of water in a covered pot for fifteen minutes. While the herbs are simmering, take a short shower to cleanse your body, then fill the tub with hot or warm water. Strain the liquid from the decoction into the bath water, and wrap the herbs in a washcloth. Soak in the tub for at least twenty minutes, using the “herbal washcloth” to rub over your body. –
  • Add 1/2 cup of herbs to running bath water, preferably hot. You might want to cover the drain with a thin mesh screen to prevent the herbs from clogging the pipes. Soak in the tub for twenty to thirty minutes.
  • Fill a thin cloth bag with 1/2 cup of herbs, either placing it in the bath water or tying it to the spigot so that the hot water runs through it as it fills the tub. Again, soak for twenty to thirty minutes.

Certain herbs are quite effective for creating soothing baths. Combine a handful each of valerian, lavender, linden, chamomile, hops, and burdock root, and add it to your bath according to one of the preceding methods. Soak for thirty minutes in the tub. Another soothing herbal bath calls for a handful each of hops, linden, valerian, chamomile, yarrow, and passionflower. Prepare this bath according to one of the preceding methods, or simmer the herbs in a quart of water, then drink 1/2cup of the liquid (with lemon and honey added, if you wish) and pour the rest in the tub. While soaking in an herbal bath, you can read, meditate, listen to peaceful music, or just sit quietly, concentrating on relaxing yourself.

Risks, Cautions, and Contraindications:
Please see under individual techniques for warnings and caution for the use and follow them.
Persons with impaired temperature sensation run the risk of scalding or frostbite at temperature extremes.
When a condition is recurrent or persistent, please consult your physician to determine whether a physical therapy of this type is suitable in your case.

  • If you have diabetes, avoid hot application to the feet or legs.
  • Also avoid full body heating treatments, such as body wraps.
  • Avoid cold application if you are diagnosed with Raynaud’s disease.
  • Hot immersion baths and long, hot saunas are not recommended for those with diabetes or multiple sclerosis, women who are pregnant or anyone with abnormally high or low blood pressure.
  • Don’t take cold foot baths if you are prone to  bladder or rectal irritation. People suffering from sciatica, pelvic inflammation or rheumatism in the toes or ankles should avoid cold foot baths.
  • Elderly people and young children may be exhausted by too much heat and should avoid long full-body hot treatments such as immersion baths and saunas.
  • If you are pregnant or have heart disease, consult a doctor before taking a sauna.

Follow these steps for an Effective Hydrotherapy:

  • For overall tension reduction, use a neutral bath (temperature between 92 to 94 degree F) that is close to the skin temperature.
  • Use water temperature between 102 to 106 degree F for loosening tight, tense muscles and reducing the pain of stress-related conditions such as backache.(Using temperatures higher than 106 degrees is not recommended as it can raise your body temperature very fast, inducing an artificial fever.)
  • Take a cold shower after you step out of the bath.
  • This brings and immediate rush of blood through your system, as well as a rush of energy. (Try alternating cold and hot shower to get a similar effect. 3 minutes of hot water followed by 30 seconds of cold water and the 3 minutes of hot water, etc.)
  • Stay in the bath no more than 15 to 20 minutes.
  • If you have high blood pressure or cardiovascular problems, don’t stay long enough to raise your body temperature.
  • Evening is the best time to soak in water. A study conducted in England found that people who took a soaking bath before going to bed slept more readily and deeply.