The many forms of water therapy
External hydrotherapy involves submerging the body in water or simply applying water to the body. This water can be hot or cold and includes the application of ice. Hot water, which relaxes muscles and causes sweating, is used to treat arthritis, rheumatism, poor circulation, and sore muscles, while cold water, which stimulates blood flow in the skin and underlying muscles, helps to reduce inflammation and pain.
Temperature-based hydrotherapy treatments can include the application of moist heat (i.e. fomentation) or cold water to specific parts of the body. Moist heat is used to treat chest colds, flu, or arthritis, while cold compresses or ice packs are used for sprains, headaches, dental surgery, and to reduce swelling. Body packs are another application of external hydrotherapy, which involves wrapping wet cloths around the body. This form of therapy is often used to calm psychiatric patients and for detoxification.
The following are some of the most common hydrotherapy treatment methods being practiced today:
Although Kneipp has been most closely connected with naturopathy, he developed an entire healing system based on five main points: hydrotherapy, herbalism, exercise, nutrition, and spirituality.
The main focus of this system is water treatment as it typically involves several rounds of hydrotherapy (hot and cold treatments) in addition to its focus on a natural diet, and the application and intake of herbs. Many wellness centres now offer the Kneipp method—in one form or another—as it is a low-impact and pleasant form of holistic healing. This treatment generally takes the form of warm baths as well as alternating hot and cold water applications and compresses. The method of therapy has been used to treat high- and low-blood pressure, arthritis, and sleep disorders.
Sitz baths are external based and place bathers in a specially designed tub, which allows the lower abdomen/hips to be submerged in water that is different in temperature compared to the water surrounding the bather’s feet. These baths have been used to help manage back pain, sore muscles, muscle spasms, body aches, sprains, hemorrhoids, pruritis (itching), inflammation, rashes, anxiety, wound care/hygiene, and to promote relaxation.
For various ailments, different temperatures can be used, and minerals or medications can be added to the water. A contrasting sitz bath is one where water surrounding the pelvis area is alternated between hot and cold.
Neutral baths use water that is the same temperature as the skin. The skin’s surface comprises a large number of nerve endings, which deal with the reception of stimuli. Most are cold rather than heat receptors; therefore, if the water temperature is different to that of the skin, the skin will either conduct or absorb heat. These stimuli have an influence on the sympathetic nervous system and can also affect the hormonal system.
The greater the difference in temperature between the skin and the water being applied the greater the potential for physiological reaction. Conversely, water that is the same temperature as the body provides a relaxing and sedative effect on the nervous system. This provides therapeutic value in states of stress, which led to the development of the neutral bath. These baths also produce a sedative or even soporific effect and place no strain on the heart, circulation, or nervous system.
Foot and hand baths
Foot and hand baths are extremely popular and are effective at relieving pain, not only in the feet, but other parts of the body as well. This can be attributed to the fact that many nerve endings in the body terminate in the hands and feet.
These are considered local immersion baths, which surround the feet and ankles in 43 to 46 C (100 to 115 F) water. This dilates vessels in the feet and legs and increases blood flow through the entire skin surface, relieving congestion in internal organs and the brain. It also elevates the body’s temperature, relaxing tense muscles and increasing white blood cell activity.
In many instances, foot baths also incorporate reflexology, which is a therapy that focuses on the nerve endings in the feet to cause therapeutic reactions in all parts of the body.