Hydrotherapy and Hydrothermal Therapy


Water has been used to improve muscle tone, digestion, circulation and the immune system, and to bring relaxation and pain relief by the traditional cultures of Rome, China and Japan, and is now regaining popularity. Water has important cleansing and supportive properties, and hydro-thermal therapy makes use of the additional effects of temperature on the body.

Types of hydrotherapy

Many hospitals have a hydrotherapy pool. A series of gentle exercises (distinct from swimming or aquaerobics) can be more manageable when carried out in a heated pool (34ºC); while the water supports much of your body-weight, the resistance of the water helps to strengthen the muscles. The warmth increases circulation, and also reduces muscle-spasms, helping to relieve pain. Excess fluid in joints and limbs passes into the bloodstream, which is particularly beneficial to those with inflammatory arthritis.

Physical Hydrotherapy can offer some relief to those suffering from:
Back and neck pain
Balance / co-ordination problems
Brain injury
Cerebral palsy
Parkinson’s disease
Sports injuries

It may also be helpful when recovering from a stroke.

Hydro-physiotherapy may not be suitable for people with heart problems.

Hydrothermal therapy
Hydrotherapy is one of many techniques used by naturopaths; the body is treated holistically, with the aim of maintaining bio-chemical, physical and emotional balance.

Different water temperatures, often alternated, are used to achieve certain effects: for example, hot water dilates blood vessels, increasing blood flow to the skin and muscles. This improves circulation and the immune system. Waste products are effectively removed, while nutrients and oxygen are carried around the body. Cold water, on the other hand, stimulates the blood vessels near the skin’s surface to constrict, sending blood away from the skin and towards the internal organs, improving their functioning and reducing inflammation. This type of hydrotherapy is considered helpful for many conditions, including:
Back pain
Circulatory problems
Crural paralysis
Gastric ulcers
Low immune system
Menstrual problems
Muscle / joint pain

There are many different methods of applying hydrotherapy, including:

Immersion baths - these involve immersing the body, or some part of it (eg arm/feet) in a tub of water, which may be warm, cold or ‘rising temperature’ (hot water is added until it reaches 103-4C). A ‘sitz bath’ is a hipbath. Aromatherapy oils or medicinal herbs may be added to the water.

Cold rubbings - the body is rubbed vigorously with cold, damp cloth, and the patient is then put to bed until warm and dry.

Douches - water is run gently over the part of the body to be treated, such as the knee, thigh, arm, chest, trunk, back, neck, and face. Excess water is then wiped off, and the patient should dress and exercise.

Sauna/steam room/Turkish bath - these induce sweating, which rids the body of impurities and relieves water retention. They also stimulate blood flow, increase heart-rate, promote hormone production, open the airways, regulate the vegetative system and can improve mental outlook.

Wraps - these are mainly used for treating a fever and a local inflammation; they not only relieve symptoms, but also decrease the length of the illness. An example of treatment using wraps ishot fomentation: the patient lies in their undergarments on a bed and several blankets, which are wrapped around the body, leaving just the chest free. The person’s feet are placed in a hot foot-bath just off the end of the bed. Two hot damp towels are placed on their chest, and a cold cloth on the forehead. The blankets are then wrapped completely around the patient, for three minutes, when the process is repeated. The whole body is then rubbed with the cold cloth, and the whole process repeated two more times. This is an effective treatment for chest colds and coughs, though it is not suitable for diabetic patients or after a recent heart attack. Some practitioners believe that raising the body temperature in this way can help the destruction of cancer cells, as well as viruses, and bacteria.

Packs/compresses - hot towels placed on parts of the body help ease stiff muscles and relieve the pain. Cold towels/ice are used to reduce inflammation, strains and sprains, headaches and pleurisy.

Thalassotherapy - this is the therapeutic use of seawater and seaweed-wraps, which are rich in vitamins and minerals.

High-powered jets - hot or cold water is directed at the patient's back for two or three minutes, to stimulate the circulation and the internal organs.

Whirlpool baths - the pressurised bubbles are believed to treat sores, infected wounds, swelling and circulatory problems.

Medical advice should be sought before hydrotherapy treatment is carried out.

Colonic hydrotherapy
Water is used to flush out toxins and waste from the colon, which also allows nutrients to be absorbed more easily. It is used to treat severe constipation, as well as irritable bowel syndrome, candida infections, and infertility problems. It is not recommended for infants and children.


The Hydrotherapy Association
Unit 8 & 13 Woodside Park Industrial Estate Catteshall Lane
Tel: 01483 426 999

The British College of Naturopathy and Osteopathy
Lief House
3 Sumpter Close
120-122 Finchley Road
London NW3 5HR
Tel: 020 7435 6464

The British Spas Federation

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