11 Outstanding Benefits of Soaking in Hydrotherapy


xternal and internal use of water is known as hydrotherapy. It involves the use of water at different temperatures in any of its three forms, liquid, ice or steam. It is also known as aquatic therapy, balneotherapy, pool therapy or simply water therapy. Hydrotherapy is being used for millennia for relieving various illnesses. Healing the body with the help of water had been an important part of the ancient naturopathic treatments in China, India, and Egypt. The physiological and therapeutic benefits of therapies with water are supported by numerous scientific studies. It is therefore regarded as an effective remedy for a number of ailments. [1]

Since ancient times, water therapy is being performed in various ways in different cultures. Swimming in mineral springs, soaking in Turkish baths and the Ayurvedic steam therapies are some of the earliest examples of hydrotherapy. From full body baths to local water therapies such as compresses and foot soaks, hydrotherapy is part of our daily lives. [2]

What is Hydrotherapy

Water is regarded as an excellent healing agent. The exact impact of water on your body depends upon the water temperature. A shower in clean cold water is not only important for maintaining hygiene. When we take a bath, water opens up the skin pores, stimulates blood circulation and helps activate the muscles and body systems. Contrary to popular belief, cold water does not reduce the body heat. Instead, it supports the generation of body heat by boosting the body’s vital energy. Furthermore, water is a flexible medium for generating the desired thermic and mechanical effect on the area of the body where it is applied.

While heated water provides warmth to the body, cool water absorbs the excess body heat. Water is a universal solvent. Apart from quenching your thirst, it flushes out excess sugar, salt, uric acids and other toxic wastes from the body. However, the effectiveness of hydrotherapy depends upon the level of your body’s vital power. The vital power of the body is known to be higher in the acute stage of an ailment. At this stage, hydrotherapy in the form of baths is considered more effectual. Milder applications such as compresses or packs usually work in chronic diseases when the vital power is at a lower level.

Water is used at different temperatures in hydrotherapy. Very cold or ice application involves an application of water at -1 to -13-degree Celsius. Water application is said to be cold when the temperature is from 13 to 18 degree Celsius. When the temperature of the water is between 18 and 27 degree Celsius, it is known to be cool. The temperature of tepid or lukewarm water is between 27 and 33 degree Celsius. The temperature of warm water is between 33 and 37 degree Celsius, and the temperatures of hot and very hot water are between 37 and 40 degree Celsius and above 40 degree Celsius respectively.

Baths, compresses and fomentation, jet spray massages, immersion bath, and enema are the different forms of hydrotherapy. Baths, the most popular mode of hydrotherapy, include hip baths, spinal baths, foot and arm baths, steam bath, sauna bath, and sponge bath. [3]

Benefits of Hydrotherapy

The following are the amazing benefits of hydrotherapy

1. Helps Improve Osteoarthritis Symptoms

Osteoarthritis is a common musculoskeletal disease that affects approximately 10% of the population above the age of 65. The knees are the common sites of the chronic degenerative joint disease. Women are especially susceptible to osteoarthritis. Though exercises are a non-pharmacological option for managing osteoarthritis pain, owing to the higher risk of falls associated with land-based exercises, water-based physical activities or hydrotherapy are considered more effective in pain management. Clinical studies have revealed that performing hydrotherapy exercise in a heated pool twice a week for six weeks helps in improving knee extensor and flexor muscle strength, endurance and power. [4]

2. Helps Manage Rheumatoid Arthritis Symptoms

Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease that affects multiple joints. Morning stiffness, fatigue and malaise are common symptoms. Medications that modulate the functions of the immune system and provide relief from pain and inflammation are associated with many side effects. To minimize the adverse reactions of pharmacological treatment, a number of people with rheumatoid arthritis prefer hydrotherapy. Researchers have found in a study that people with rheumatoid arthritis who took sauna experienced less pain and could move the affected joints with ease. Hydrotherapy, when combined with massage sessions, helps to improve the effectiveness of massage therapy. [5] Moreover, incorporating hydrotherapy in the treatment regimen in addition to conventional drugs was found to be effective in reducing oxidative stress by stimulating the activities of antioxidant enzymes. [6]

3. Helps Reduce Edema

Water retention in the peripheral tissues could be reduced with the help of hydrotherapy. The hydrostatic pressure exerted by water helps in draining the excess fluid. Immersing the affected limb or part of the limb in cold water is believed to reduce edema associated with renal dysfunction, venous and lymphatic insufficiency and postoperative swelling. Water helps in cooling the area that aids vasoconstriction and decreases vascular permeability thereby relieving the acute inflammation. However, avoid hot water immersion because heating the tissues is known to worsen edema. [7]

4. Supports Wound Healing

Hydrotherapy is known to speed up healing of wounds. Immersing the affected limb in water helps in cleansing the sore. By rehydrating the damaged area, water helps in softening the damaged tissues and assists in debridement or removal of the wound debris. Furthermore, in addition to the warmth of the heated water, the hydrostatic pressure of water promotes circulation in the affected area. Moreover, hydrotherapy helps in maintaining a moist environment that eases the healing process. [8] Hydrotherapy also assists in healing burns. In case of major burns, hydrotherapy is usually recommended 3 to 5 days after sustaining the burn injury when the patient’s condition has stabilized. It helps in sloughing off the dead skin, drains the pus and restores the microbial flora. It helps in cleaning the wound and supports formation of new tissues. The warm shower or bath with running warm water eases physical therapy and is good for the psychological health of the patient. [9]

5. Aids Muscle Recovery After Exercise

Muscle aches and soreness after vigorous physical activities could be alleviated with the help of hydrotherapy. Ice baths, cold showers and contrast hydrotherapy involving alternating hot and cold showers are believed to facilitate muscle recovery. After an intense physical activity, take a very hot shower for two minutes followed by a cold shower for 30 seconds. Repeat the contrast baths at least three times. [10]

6. Helps Heal Musculoskeletal Injuries

Musculoskeletal injuries including repetitive stress injuries and sports injuries are common in our daily lives. Recent injuries could cause acute pain along with edema, stiffness, restricted range of motion and muscle guarding. Improperly healed old injuries are associated with overproduction of scar tissues, active or latent trigger points, limited movement, and chronic musculoskeletal pain. Hydrotherapy supports healing of new as well as old injuries. It is even effective in case of injuries that are too painful to touch. The aim of hydrotherapy or aquatic therapy is to reduce swelling, pain, and stiffness of the injured joint or muscle and accelerate the healing process. The temperature of the water depends upon the stage of the injury. Hydrotherapy with cool water helps at the acute stage of the injury. Warm water is preferred for hydrotherapy in case of old injuries. However, the temperature of the water should not be above 105-degree Fahrenheit. [11][12]

7. Good for the Cardiovascular System

Hydrotherapy is known to improve heart function. According to a study, a warm water bath or low-temperature sauna bath at 60-degree Celsius for 15 minutes assists in vasodilatation that helps in improving heart function in chronic heart failure patients. Research has revealed that repeated sauna therapy is capable of enhancing exercise tolerance and increases endothelial function. Low-temperature sauna bath is also found to be effective in increasing peripheral blood circulation in cerebral palsy patients. Researchers have also observed that sauna therapy could reduce the total cholesterol and low-density lipoprotein or bad cholesterol levels and elevate the high-density lipoprotein or good cholesterol level. Improvement in lipid profile following repeated hydrotherapy helps in reducing risk of ischemic heart disease. Regular sauna therapy is believed to be safe. [13]

8. Helps Improve Lung Function

For people suffering from a chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), hydrotherapy could help in improving the lung function. Studies have revealed that performing breathing exercises while standing in a pool of warm water helps in improving the FEV1 (forced expiratory volume)/FVC (forced vital capacity) ratio and reduces pCO2 (partial pressure of carbon dioxide). Hydrotherapy breathing exercises were found to be most effective when performed 120 minutes per week. Furthermore, compared to land-based breathing exercises, better results were observed when the same exercises were performed in water. [14]

9. Helps Relieve Stress and Anxiety

Stress forces the heart to work harder. It slows down digestion and causes rapid and shallow breathing. Persistent stress harms the body and increases the risks of chronic diseases. Hydrotherapy is an excellent stress buster. The healing effect of water therapy aids relaxation. [15] Studies have shown that hydrotherapy bath or immersion in warm water during childbirth helps in reducing anxiety and pain. The elevated stress hormone level during labor, apart from increased anxiety and pain, causes ineffective uterine contraction. [16]

10. Helps Improve Sleep

Your quality of sleep affects your quality of life. Hydrotherapy could help in increasing the total sleep time. In a clinical study, researchers found that fibromyalgia patients slept one hour longer after taking hydrotherapy for three weeks. Hydrotherapy was found to be more effective than conventional physiotherapy in increasing total sleep time and decreasing total nap time. [17]

11. Eases Absorption of Herbs, Salts, Oils, and Minerals

Hydrotherapy eases absorption of herbal extracts, salts, plant oils, and minerals into the skin, thereby enhancing the therapeutic effect of these substances. Substances containing beneficial compounds are dissolved in water and applied to the skin through poultices, compresses, whole body or local baths and packs. Water acts as a medium for transporting the beneficial compounds present in these substances into the deeper tissues. Furthermore, heated water used for hydrotherapy warms the skin that helps in increasing local blood circulation. This helps in speeding up the absorption of beneficial compounds dissolved in water. [18]

How Hydrotherapy Works

Hydrotherapy works by activating the body’s own defensive mechanism that induces the healing process. For instance, a cold shower stimulates the body to counteract the fall in core temperature by increasing metabolic functions that increase blood flow in the surface blood vessels, stimulate the endocrine system and increase muscle and tissue tone so that you feel warm. Hydrotherapy through cold or hot water therapy affects the body by changing the core temperature. Mechanical hydrotherapies involving whirlpool jets, sprays and friction stimulate the body systems through the application of pressure.

In hydrotherapy that combines salts, herbs and essential oils with water, also known as chemical hydrotherapy, the body processes are affected through the absorption of these substances into the skin. The skin, nervous system and circulatory system are simultaneously affected by hydrotherapy. It stimulates the skin, nerve endings, blood vessels, lymph vessels, and the muscles. Hydrotherapy at first stimulates the sensory receptors in the skin. Through the nerves, the information is then transmitted to the brain. The nervous system then commands the cardiovascular system to react to the stimuli. [19]

Potential Side Effects of Hydrotherapy

The effect of hydrotherapy depends upon individual reactions. Although hydrotherapy is usually known to be safe and side effects that may occur in some cases are generally mild, a possibility of an unexpected adverse reaction cannot be ruled out. Hence, it is advisable to gradually proceed with the therapy. Cold hydrotherapy entails a risk of serious hypertensive reaction. It is therefore not recommended for older adults and people with heart and kidney disorders and sclerosis. Very hot baths should be avoided by the elderly and people with latent cardiovascular disorders. Elderly patients should avoid a cold bath. Abdominal showers are not recommended during pregnancy. In some cases, hydrotherapy may cause a headache, irritability, dizziness, nausea, heart palpitation, cold, weakness and localized or generalized pain. [20]