Ever taken a hot bath to relieve sore muscles, or use an ice pack to reduce swelling or a humidifier to moisturize the air? If so, then you are already familiar with the practice of hydrotherapy.
Though it may sound fancy, hydrotherapy is simply the use of water, ice, or steam for healing purposes. From early Roman bath houses to Native American "sweat lodges," hydrotherapy has been used for centuries to offer relaxation and symptom relief for a host of conditions.
Photo of a sweat lodge courtesy of V'ron
How does it help?
Most hydrotherapy treatments are based on moisture and temperature. Heat-based therapies, such as warm baths, vapors, or steam, cause the blood vessels to dilate (open), improving circulation. This can help relax muscles and reduce pain.
Cold-based therapies like ice packs or cold compresses narrow blood vessels. This slows circulation to the area, which reduces fluid and swelling after an injury.
Types of hydrotherapy
Doctors commonly use whirlpool baths for athletic injuries and ice for sprains. In complementary medicine, hydrotherapy is often combined with other treatments to help with arthritis, headaches, circulation, and other health issues. It can also enhance feelings of relaxation and well-being.
Hydrotherapy treatments are often given at health spas or suggested as home self-care treatments. Some types of hydrotherapy include:
Swimming pools. Certain exercises cause less strain on painful bones and joints when done in the water. Further, water offers resistance to movement, which helps build muscle strength. Research has shown that water aerobics can also relieve back pain and pelvic pain in some pregnant women. Always check with your doctor first, though, if you are pregnant and thinking about water aerobics.