Workplace Wellness: Healing Hydrotherapy


We all know that drinking water is essential to our bodies for healthy hydration. But water used therapeutically can also provide remarkable healing benefits.

Did you know that the concept of hydrotherapy; known by many others names such as thermal medicine, hydropathy, aquatic therapy, or water cure can be traced as far back as 4500 BC in ancient Asia, with additional historical evidence also found in ancient Egypt, Greece, and Rome?

A journal article entitled, “History of the Baths and Thermal Medicine,” in the Macedonian Journal of Medical Sciences notes, “In the Homeric poems and Hesiod, many references are made to the use of restorative baths. Also, some of Greece’s famous philosophers, such as Hippocrates and Plato, wrote of the benefits of hydrotherapy.”

Referencing the father of medicine, it states, “Hippocrates dedicated a large section to thermal water in his work “De is, a quiz at loci”, in which he described the chemical and organoleptic water features, and the effects of hot and cold baths on the human body” (Gianfaldoni, et al. pp. 566–568).

From its prominence in ancient civilizations and cultures, to its emergence of popularity in resorts and health spas throughout Europe and the United States during the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries, to its current use in naturopathic and sports medicine—hydrotherapy has long harnessed the healing properties of water to provide humans with respite and relief.

Hydrotherapy defined simply is the use of water to relieve pain and promote health. There are many forms hydrotherapy can take.

Various types of hydrotherapy may utilize:
• Natural Hot Springs
• Swimming Pools
• Hot Tubs
• Saunas
• Baths
• Showers
• Steam Tents
• Cryotherapy
• Fomentations & Compresses
• Floatation Therapy Chambers

Specific hydrotherapy treatments may include but are not limited to:
• Aquatic Therapy Pool Exercises & Stretches
• Hot & Cold Contrast Showers
• Cold Mitten Friction
• Ice Massage
• Hot Packs
• Cold Packs
• Hot Foot Baths
• Epson Salt Soaks
• Steam Inhalation
• Whole-Body Steam Tent & Sauna Treatments
• Application of Hot Fomentation & Compresses
• Sensory Restricted Environmental Stimulation Therapy (aka REST sessions)

Heat opens the blood vessels in the body while cold constricts the blood vessels. The use of hot and cold water in hydrotherapy treatments increases blood circulation, which in turn can promote a stronger immune response, an increase in the removal of toxins, and faster healing times. Which is why sports medicine so often utilizes the power of ice and heat when addressing sports injuries.

Additionally, physicians and physical therapists often advise aquatic therapy as a form of low-impact exercise for those recovering from surgery or for those dealing with chronic pain conditions. It provides such favorable results it is even used by some veterinarians for canine therapy. The buoyancy and temperature of the water create a therapeutic environment for gentle exercise that proves beneficial in decreasing pain while promoting healing.

Specific hydrotherapy treatments are not advised for individuals with heart disease, neuropathy, or diabetes. Extra precautions should be taken if you have other medical conditions or if you are pregnant. Always speak with your doctor before incorporating any new health practice into your daily life to make sure it is safe for you.

Perhaps you do not have time to go to the pool or the budget for luxury spa treatments? No problem. Many simple hydrotherapy treatments can be done right in your own home.

Hot and cold contrast showers can be as simple as switching to cold water at the end of your morning shower, increasing circulation and jump-starting physical energy and mental acuity for the day. Or for a more intense contrast shower focused on promoting a strong immune response, do three minutes hot water followed by one of minute cold water, repeating the sequence three times and ending with cold. It is crucial even in warm weather to put on socks immediately, wear comfortable clothing, and lay down for a minimum of 30 minutes covered with a light blanket to rest afterward. Never leave feet bare post-treatment, as this is contraindicative and leaves the body susceptible to catching a chill.

Another useful home treatment is the hot foot bath. Purported to help migraines, seasonal allergies, sinus issues, colds, and the flu; this is a personal favorite for headache relief.

The easiest method is to sit on the edge of your bathtub with your feet in the tub—but you can use a basin or bucket as well. Add warm water until your feet are covered. If the room is cool, wrap a blanket around yourself. Place a cold washcloth or icepack on the back of your neck and drink a glass of cold water. Gradually add more hot water to the tub or basin, taking care never to scald your skin. Keep adding more hot water every few minutes until your feet turn pink. Soak your feet at least 10-15 minutes. Lift your feet out of the hot water and rinse them in cold water, drying them and putting on warm socks immediately.

Note: If you are using a basin, be sure to have your hot water in a tea kettle right next to you along with a pitcher of ice water before you begin, so that you can use them when needed without standing.

Have you ever found relief with a soothing hot water bottle? Or treated an injury with an ice pack? Then you have made use of the healing power of hydrotherapy. Something as simple as a cold/hot pack can be used to increase circulation, ease muscle tension, decrease inflammation, and reduce pain, even during the workday.

In the trainee kitchenette, CCFL now has a cold/hot pack container in the upper left cupboard. This container has two covers and a microwavable hot pack. An additional ice pack will live in the freezer. Caution should always be used to protect skin from any possible over-exposure, to ensure that treatment is helpful rather than harmful. These packs will now be available to all CCFL staff for use during the workday.

More than just necessary for hydration, water is life-giving in many different ways. When we take a morning shower, have a swim at the pool, soak in the hot tub, or draw a relaxing evening bath—our bodies experience many positive physiological changes that can increase our vitality and wellbeing.

Undoubtedly, having adequate water is a wonderful privilege we do not want to take for granted and a precious resource to be conserved. But used conscientiously, hydrotherapy can be a powerful tool for personal health and healing.

Works Cited:
1. Gianfaldoni, Serena, et al. “History of the Baths and Thermal Medicine.” Open Access Macedonian Journal of Medical Sciences, vol. 5(4). 25 July 2017, pp. 566–568. Published online 23 July 2017. doi: 10.3889/oamjms.2017.126. National Institutes of Health's National Library of Medicine.
Works Consulted:
1. "Hydrotherapy." Gale Encyclopedia of Alternative Medicine. 15 July 2019.
2. "Hydrotherapy." Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, 20 Jun. 2019. Web. 15 Jul. 2019.
3. “Why is Hydrotherapy Good for You?” Health & Fitness Travel. 18 Feb. 2013.
4. “Great exercise that's easier on the joints.” Harvard Health Letter. Harvard Health Publishing: Harvard Medical School. Published March 2014, Updated 2 July 2019.
5. Semigran, Aly. “How Hydrotherapy and Swimming Can Benefit Dogs.” Pet MD.

Disclaimer: These statements are not intended to diagnose, treat, or cure any condition. Always check with your doctor before making lifestyle changes, especially if you have a medical condition.