Hydrotherapy: An Age-Old Natural Cure
Hydrotherapy is a technique as old as Hippocrates, who first documented its benefits. While the term may not be part of our everyday vernacular, we use hydrotherapy as a routine part of our lives. The root of the word hydrotherapy is hydro, meaning water. Essentially, it encompasses a variety of healing treatments that involve water, including ice packs and hot baths. The idea that nature has healing properties is an age-old idea, and water has always been a part of nature’s toolkit. You are employing the healing effects of hydrotherapy when you ice your sprained ankle, set a vaporizer in your coughing child’s room, or use a damp washcloth to alleviate your headache.
Classical naturopaths in the 1800s and 1900s treated a wide variety of ailments with hydrotherapy. These days, naturopathic physicians use it to boost the immune system, to heal injuries, and to detoxify the body. It can treat acute upper-respiratory infections, colds, flus, bronchitis and pneumonia.
The way it works is simple. By increasing circulation in the body, hydrotherapy increases circulation of white blood cells, which stimulate the immune system. The drawing of blood to and through targeted areas of the body stimulates the immune system, detoxifies the body, heals injured tissues, re-energizes the body, and more.
The temperatures used are as important as the water. Hydrotherapy utilizes hot and cold water to stimulate and alter circulation, both bringing fresh nutrients to injuries and eliminating waste products from the body. With alternate applications of heat and cold, healing is accelerated. Peripheral blood vessels dilate from the heat, while cold quickly constricts those vessels, driving blood to the organs. This has a tonifying effect, aiding the regular function of organs. These treatments are often prescribed as a series, perhaps one to two times per week for four to eight weeks.
Clinicians at Bastyr Center for Natural Health treat patients using most forms of hydrotherapy, including baths, local contrast applications, and heated towels prior to muscle work.
Hydrotherapy treatments we offer include:
- Hyperthermia baths (hot baths) with additives such as peat extract, for 15-45 minutes. This acts as an anti-inflammatory, stimulates immunity, and increases circulation.
- Constitutional hydrotherapies, which involve the application of hot and cold towels to the torso (5 minutes of hot; 10 minutes of cold). The heat dilates peripheral blood vessels; the cold quickly constricts them, causing the peripheral blood to go to the organs. This helps strengthen the whole system.
- Wet sheet packs, which involves putting someone in a hot bath, then in an ice cold body-length sheet. This is good for treating fever. The body warms up the sheet reflexively and eventually starts sweating, which rallies the body’s healing powers and sweats out toxins.
- Colon hydrotherapies (colonics). In this treatment, the water cleanses and tonifies internal tissues, helping to alleviate constipation or supporting a detoxification program.
If you’d like to find out how hydrotherapy could fit into your plan for healing, discuss it with your natural health provider. If you don’t have one of your own, call the Bastyr Center for Natural Health to meet with a team of providers. 206-834-4100
Writer: Sydney Maupin and Christy Anderson, staff writers
Contributor: Stephen Milkis, ND