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Hydrotherapy: About, Types & Health Benefits

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Hydrotherapy is a method of physical therapy that uses the physical properties of water — buoyancy, viscosity, and hydrostatic pressure — to improve and maintain health and wellbeing. The healing power of hydrotherapy can be used for:

  • Treating common health conditions
  • Rehab post-surgery or following an injury
  • Training and conditioning athletes
  • Veterinary rehabilitation

Let’s take a deep dive (water pun intended!) into hydrotherapy’s history, benefits, common types, and uses so you can decide if this treatment might benefit you.

What is Hydrotherapy?

Hydrotherapy is the external or internal use of water in any of its forms (water, ice, steam) with various temperatures, pressure, duration, and site, used for treatment of various symptoms of disease. Hydrotherapy dates back to Ancient Greek, Chinese, Roman, and Egyptian civilizations. Hydrotherapy came to the United States in the 1840’s. It has evolved over time, and now encompasses many forms. There are even canine hydrotherapy facilities across the country that use hydrotherapy to treat dogs with joint pain. They doggie paddle to better health!

The Benefits of Hydrotherapy

Overall, hydrotherapy can be very effective in alleviating symptoms of muscle pain, joint stiffness, bruising, or swelling. When cold water is used in hydrotherapy, it constricts superficial blood vessels, which moves blood flow away from the surface of the body and down into the organs to reduce inflammation and swelling, and promote healing. When hot water is used in hydrotherapy, it eases sore muscles, dilates superficial blood vessels, activates sweat glands, and promotes blood flow to remove waste from body tissues.

Now let’s look at the benefits of hydrotherapy through the lens of the physical properties of water — buoyancy, viscosity, and hydrostatic pressure.

BUOYANCY is the ability to float in water. The property of buoyancy creates a weightless environment in water that alleviates pressure on joints, supports weak muscles, and improves balance deficits. With buoyancy, the deeper you are in the water the less you weigh, and the less you weigh the less stress is on the joints. Weightlessness means you can get an intense workout with less joint stress. Stretching out tight muscles is easier with hydrotherapy because the buoyancy of water helps to improve the range of motion. Weightlessness also allows for hydrotherapy rehabilitation to begin sooner than land-based physical therapy because you never have to bear weight on the injured part of your body. Early hydrotherapy treatment means your body can begin to heal sooner.

VISCOSITY is a fluid’s resistance against an object. Exercises in water provide up to 15x more resistance than the same exercises on land. But the weightlessness of water means there is no pressure on joints that are using the resistance therapy to heal.

HYDROSTATIC PRESSURE is a force that applies in all directions. Hydrostatic pressure increases or decreases depending on how far your body is submerged in water. When you stand in a pool, your ankles are under more hydrostatic pressure than your waist because they are deeper in the water. Hydrostatic pressure has four benefits. First, hydrostatic pressure reduces swelling and acts as a compression device. It is very helpful in cases of lymphedema or injuries that result in swelling. Second, hydrostatic pressure can also help increase breathing capacity out of the water. When your body is submerged up to your neck, hydrostatic pressure applies constant resistance to the chest wall. The pressure forces you to release more air than you usually would when you exhale and helps the chest wall work more efficiently when exercising out of the water. This property is especially helpful for those with COPD or other lung dysfunction. Third, hydrostatic pressure applies constant resistance to the body, and the nervous system responds that that constant pressure by dulling nerve ending. That auto response has the added benefit of dulling muscle pain, making it easier to move, workout, and stretch when undergoing hydrotherapy. People with fibromyalgia, sciatica, arthritis, neuropathy, or any neurological (Parkinson’s disease, cerebral palsy, epilepsy, etc.) or musculoskeletal disorders (carpal tunnel syndrome, rotator cuff injuries, etc) can benefit from hydrotherapy because of the nerve-dulling benefit of hydrostatic pressure. And finally, hydrostatic pressure also increases circulation in the body, and improved circulation serves to increase detoxification of the blood.

Common Types of Hydrotherapy

Hydrotherapy doesn’t necessarily mean installing a pool or hot tub. Here are five common types of hydrotherapies that range from home application to clinical application:

  1. Warm Water Baths: A warm bath can have significant therapeutic benefits. Warm water relaxes muscles, increases blood flow, and reduces pain. Warm water can also help calm your mental state, reducing stress and anxiety, improving mood and energy levels, and facilitating deep sleep. A sitz bath is a shallow bath with warm water that covers just your genital and rectal areas and reduces pain and swelling for issues like hemorrhoids and menstrual problems.
  2. Colonic Hydrotherapy: Colonic hydrotherapy flushes 15-20 gallons of warm water through the five feet of colon, and the process evacuates toxins from your gastrointestinal tract, boosts your energy, and enhances your immune system.
  3. Aquatic Exercise: Aquatic exercise is exercise in a therapy pool, where the weightlessness reduces joint stress and the water resistance accelerates the workout benefit. Aquatic exercise improves flexibility, balance, and strength.
  4. Aquatic Massage: There are two types of aquatic massage. The first requires you to immerse yourself in water while jets apply pressure to the skin. The second involves special water beds that massage the skin without wetting it. Overall, aquatic massage relieves muscle pain and stiffness, improves circulation, and promotes relaxation to reduce stress.
  5. Steam Baths: Steam rooms are enclosed spaces that are heated with steam generators. Steam baths use moist steamy air to clear congestion, improve skin health, lower blood pressure, improve circulation, reduce joint stiffness, and promote relaxation.

How to Use Hydrotherapy

Hydrotherapy is considered an alternative treatment option. While hydrotherapy has few side effects, those with skin wounds/lesions, heart problems, or incontinence should take extra precautions. Always consult with your primary caregiver before starting hydrotherapy.

Hydrotherapy at OHI

Hydrotherapy is a physical therapy method that uses water to treat a variety of symptoms throughout your body. Hydrotherapy can include treatments at home like a warm bath for relaxation, a cold compress for a headache, or a soak in a hot tub to soothe aching muscles, or more clinical therapies like enemas and implants or colon hydrotherapy to evacuate toxins from your gastrointestinal tract or aquatic massage which reduces pain and improves circulation throughout your body. The three properties of water — buoyancy, viscosity, and hydrostatic pressure — is what allows hydrotherapy to build strength without strain on joints, reduce swelling, pain, and stiffness, and improve circulation. When you book a holistic healing retreat at OHI, you’ll also have the option to include colon hydrotherapy services to enhance your cleansing experience. OHI contracts with certified colonic therapist professionals to make their health and wellness services available to you on-site for your convenience, using state-of-the-art hydrotherapy equipment. As an alternative treatment option, hydrotherapy offers a wide range of health benefits that everyone from athletes to senior citizens can take advantage of. Whether you’re looking to build strength, reduce inflammation, or eliminate stress, put the healing power of hydrotherapy to work for you today.

A holistic healing retreat at OHI will give you the opportunity to put the power of hydrotherapy to work for you!

Give yourself the gift of a healing retreat at OHI and jumpstart your holistic healing journey. Book your next visit to OHI today. Call OHI at (800) 588-0809 to learn more about our holistic approach to health and wellness.