Hydrotherapy – more than water up the butt!

When people hear the word “hydrotherapy” it seems as though they automatically imagine the word “colon” beforehand. At least that is often the response I get, sometimes simply through widened eyes, when recommending a hydrotherapy treatment. Others might envision old ladies treading water in the deep-end of the health club pool; water aerobics. Both colon hydrotherapy and water aerobics have become popular in recent years as ways to promote health by very different means, but that is not what this article is aboutThis article is about the ancient art of using water to treat disease, not shooting it up the rectum!
A brief history
Hydrotherapy is the use of water in the treatment of disease. The use of this simple and powerful therapy dates back thousands of years to the times of Greek and Roman culture. It is important to note, however, that the application of hydrotherapy is commonly observed in nature, through the innate wisdom of other creatures. In the early 1800s, Vincent Preissnitz, a young peasant farmer observed a wounded deer bathing in a cold pond. Over the course of several days, Preissnitz witnessed the sick and feeble deer regain health and strength. In awe of the simple healing power of the water, Priessnitz went on to develop a hydrotherapy clinic in Germany. Sebastian Kneipp, a Bavarian Priest, continued the hydrotherapy movement throughout Germany, and was successful in spreading the knowledge of its benefits through positive outcomes of many. The clinical use of hydrotherapy finally made its way to the U.S., first implemented by Dr Charles Munde and Dr. John Harvey Kellogg. Since this time, hydrotherapy has been an integral part of traditional naturopathic medical education, most notably by the teachings of naturopathic physician, Dr. O.G Carroll (1879-1962).
Benefits of Hydrotherapy
Increased elimination of waste aiding in detoxificationSoothing muscles and promoting relaxationIncreased metabolic rate and digestive activityHydration of cells and tissues to improve skin and muscle toneStimulation of the immune systemGeneral improved function of all organs by enhancing circulation
How it Works
The healing properties of hydrotherapy are quite simple. Essentially, water is used to carry heat to the body, and in response to warm applications, blood is shunted to the periphery as a thermoregulatory mechanism. With cold applications, the blood returns to the core where it perfuses vital organs that are involved with metabolic processes and detoxification. Additionally, the effects of alternating hot and cold stimulates the immune system, influence hormone production, and lessens the body’s sensitivity to painful stimuli.
In addition to the physiologic effects that are mechanically mediated through hydrotherapy, it is also generally a relaxing experience. Calming the sympathetic nervous system, and tonifying the parasympathetic nervous system through relaxation and stress management is always an important consideration in healing.
Types of Hydrotherapy
There are so many different ways that hydrotherapy can be utilized to promote healing. Following is a list of some specific treatments, along with some general notes for each.
Shower Hydrotherapy – Simply take a hot shower, and end with 20-30 seconds of cold water. This is an easy way to promote circulation, boost healthy hormones, and energize.
Sauna – Also a great way to warm up the body and promote detoxification through the skin via sweat. Followed by a cold plunge, shower, or sponge bath, sauna sessions can be a wonderful way to relax, detoxify, and energize all at once.
Full-Body Bath – A more intensified and relaxing hydrotherapy treatment involves alternating hot and cold baths. After thoroughly warming the body, a cold plunge is quite invigorating!
Sitz Bath – This is a localized treatment for pelvic conditions including cystitis, prostatitis, and urethritis. Alternating warm and cold sitz baths directs the healing response to the required area.
Warm Compress – For a local infection or boil, a warm compress can be an effective way for bringing things to the surface to be expressed.
Cold Compress – Applying a cold wet compress and then covering the area with warmth is a good way to direct the circulation to a specific region to control inflammation and promote healing.
Foot Bath – A warm foot bath paired with a cold cloth on the head is a powerful way to address a vascular headache, such as a migraine.
Steam Inhalation – After bringing a pot of water to a boil, add some herbs (such as thyme and/or rosemary) and remove from the heat. Taking deep breaths of the steam can be effective for clearing mucous and tonifying the upper respiratory system to combat upper respiratory and sinus infections.
Wet Sheet Wrap – A fairly intense, whole body treatment that involves warming up via bath or sauna before being wrapped in a cold wet sheet, followed by layers of wool blankets. As your blood circulates, the wet sheet is warmed by the heat produced from your body.
Wet T-Shirt – A less intense modification of the wet sheet wrap, that involves getting out of a warm shower to put on a cold wet t-shirt, followed by wool sweater. This is great for localizing the circulatory stimulation to the chest and abdomen to promote gastrointestinal or respiratory functioning.
Warming Socks – Put wet cotton socks on your feet followed by a pair of thick wool socks. Done before bed, this is a great way to generally tonify the body and circulatory system to detox and stimulate the immune system.
Constitutional Hydrotherapy – A classic treatment developed by Dr. O.G. Carroll and now instituted by naturopathic physicians around the world. Alternating hot and cold towels are applied the chest, abdomen, and back along with sine wave electrotherapy to stimulate the digestive process and promote detoxification. This particular treatment is physician supervised, as there are some contraindications to its use.
Conditions helped by Hydrotherapy
Arthritis, Cold/flu, Pneumonia, Headaches, Digestive complaints, Bladder infections, Fibromyalgia, Chronic fatigue, Psychologic complaints, (Depression, Anxiety, ADHD, psychosis),Sleep disordersStress
Contraindications & Warnings
Hydrotherapy is a medical treatment and is to be directed by a healthcare professional. While basic bathing therapy and contrast showers are generally safe, consult with a naturopathic physician before undergoing treatment, especially in the case of any of the following conditions:
Acute bleeding, hemorrhage, open wounds, pressure sores, contagious skin rashes, peripheral neuropathy – inability to detect pain/temperatures, hypotensive individual in hot baths, malignancy, seizures, severe cardiac complications, vascular disease.
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