Hydrotherapy utilises the unique properties of water which allow us to live on this planet. Water is a universal solvent, exists naturally in three forms as a solid, liquid or gas and makes up more than 70% of the body organs. Chronic dehydration is a major cause of pathological changes in the body. Water cure, or hydrotherapy, is one of the oldest forms of treatment for healthy living and has been documented as far back as ancient Rome, but was made prominent in the 19th century by Father Sebastian Kneipp. Many complementary therapies now include some aspect of hydrotherapy for pain relief and detoxification treatment but the term encompasses a broad range of approaches and therapeutic methods that take advantage of the physical properties of water. Many hydrotherapists employ water jets, underwater massage and mineral baths, e.g. balneotherapy, Iodine-Grine therapy, Kneipp treatments, Scotch hose, Swiss shower, thalassotherapy or whirlpool baths, hot Roman baths, hot tub, jacuzzi, cold plunge and mineral baths.
The therapeutic use of water has a long history and has been recorded in ancient Egyptian, Greek and Roman civilizations. Other cultures noted for a long history of hydrotherapy include China and Japan with the latter being centred primarily around Japanese hot springs. By the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, bath houses were extremely popular with the public throughout Europe. Public bath houses made their first American appearance in the mid-1700s.
Sebastian Kneipp (1821- 1897) was a Bavarian priest who worked extensively with the healing powers of water and developed the famous ‘Water Cure’ method. Kneipp believed that all diseases originated in the circulatory system and that water cures worked by dissolving foreign material in the blood and also aided the circulation and strengthened the body as a whole. He sent his protégé, Benedict Lust (the father of Naturopathy) to America to spread knowledge of hydrotherapy and natural healing.
Many hydrotherapists employ water jets, underwater massage and mineral baths, e.g. balneotherapy, Iodine-Grine therapy, Kneipp treatments, Scotch hose, Swiss shower, thalassotherapy or whirlpool baths, hot Roman baths, hot tub, jacuzzi, cold plunge and mineral baths. The temperature of the water used affects the therapeutic properties of the treatment. Hot water is chosen for its relaxing properties. It is also thought to stimulate the immune system. Tepid water can also be used for stress reduction, and may be particularly relaxing in hot weather. Cold water is selected to reduce inflammation. Alternating hot and cold water can stimulate the circulatory system and improve the immune system. Ice can dampen down pain. Adding herbs and essential oils to water can enhance its therapeutic value. Steam is frequently used as a carrier for essential oils that are inhaled to treat respiratory problems.
Hydrotherapy is accepted as an integral part of physical rehabilitation and is used extensively by physiotherapists as well as many complementary therapists. It can soothe sore or inflamed muscles and joints, rehabilitate injured limbs, lower fevers, soothe headaches, promote relaxation, treat burns and frostbite, ease labour pains, and clear up skin problems. It is also the basis of colonic hydrotherapy. It can be a highly effective form of therapeutic exercise for people with muscle-wasting conditions. Due to the buoyancy of the body in water, weight-related stresses on the skeleton can be relieved to allow the limbs to be optimally flexed and extended which strengthens them without damaging the muscles and joints. Muscle tissue can be built up by working with and against the resistance of the water.
An essential part of hydrotherapy treatment would be examination of life style to encourage better hydration internally so that body fluids maintain homeostasis.
The Aquatic Therapy Association of Chartered Physiotherapists (ATACP) are a Professional Network recognised by the CSP
The Chartered Society of Physiotherapy