The dictionary meaning of Hydrotherapy states the use of exercises in a pool as part of treatment for conditions such as arthritis. However a more encompassing word for hydrotherapy is ‘Hydropathy’ which generalises the treatment of illness through the use of water, either internally or through external means such as steam baths (not now a part of orthodox medicine).
Hydrotherapy or Hydropathy, also called water cure, is a part of alternative medicine (particularly naturopathy), occupational therapy, and physiotherapy, that involves the use of water for pain relief and treatment. The term encompasses a broad range of approaches and therapeutic methods that take advantage of the physical properties of water, such as pressure and temperature, for therapeutic purposes, to stimulate blood circulation and treat the symptoms of certain diseases.
Spa treatment or ‘taking the waters’ is probably the oldest and most natural form of therapy in everyday use — from showering and sea-bathing to sitting in a warm bath or taking the waters at a warm natural spring. Water is known to stimulate blood flow, relax muscles, ease pain, invigorate the system and help cleanse the body of toxic substances.
Many of the original healing centres in ancient Greece and Rome were specially sited over naturally occurring waters with special mineral content. It is the healing effect of this mineral content when used to bathe arthritic limbs or rheumatic joints that has given spas their appeal.
Not limited to only these, Hydrotherapy techniques include steam baths, jacuzzis, aerated pools, fine shower sprays or sitz baths (sitting alternately in cold and hot baths). Cold and hot compresses can be used for painful joints, and at special spa sites, water is also drunk for its mineral content.
Various therapies used in the present-day hydrotherapy employ water jets, underwater massage and mineral baths (e.g. balneotherapy, Iodine-Grine therapy, Kneipp treatments, Scotch hose, Swiss shower, thalassotherapy) or whirlpool bath, hot Roman bath, hot tub, Jacuzzi, cold plunge and mineral bath.
In recent times, water baths have been used successfully in childbirth to reduce the discomfort and distress to both mother and child. Myalgic encephalomyelitis or M E, a particularly disabling condition, has responded well to daily cold baths and showers that stimulate and ‘kick start’ the hormonal and immune systems which appear to be non-functioning in this condition.
Some proponents of hydrotherapy also suggest sitting in a tub of cold water for half an hour each day to tone up the body and immune system and clear out toxins. Others suggest drinking a few glasses of water first thing in the morning on an empty stomach in order to cleanse the body internally.