What is Hydrotherapy?

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  • Written By: Malcolm Tatum
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 16 October 2019
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Hydrotherapy is a health treatment that utilizes water to deal with various types of ailments and their associated aches and pains. In some cases, the therapy involves the use of hot water, while cold water is helpful in other situations. This type of water therapy may involve strategies that include immersing the patient in water or combining the water with oils and herbs as part of the treatment process.

The history of hydrotherapy can be traced back to several ancient civilizations. There is evidence of several practices similar to the hydrotherapy techniques of today that are found among Egyptian, Roman, and Greek records dating back thousands of years. The use of warm running water to deal with stiffness in the joints is well documented, as well as the use of immersion therapy to settle the nerves and restore emotional balance.

While hydrotherapy enjoys a long history, the practice began to lose popularity during the latter part of the 19th century. Part of the reason for the decline was the development of new and effective medications that addressed many of the same aches, pains, and medical conditions as the older water therapy treatments. However, the renewed interest in alternative healing techniques during the middle and latter parts of the 20th century saw many people turning to this ancient treatment once again.


Today there are a number of options available in an effective hydrotherapy treatment regimen. Hydrotherapy pools or a hydrotherapy spa make use of a combination of immersion and steam therapy to remove toxins from the body, moisturize the skin, and help with arthritis and similar health issues. Cold water therapy often augments nuclear medicine when dealing with burns, sprains, and muscle strains. Hydrotherapy massage helps to loosen tight muscles and ease stress after a hard day.

The use of hydrotherapy is not limited to human beings. Household pets such as dogs as well as domesticated animals like horses respond well to the therapy. Just as the therapy helps humans with emotional distress and various physical complaints, animals can benefit from the soothing presence of the water as well as obtain relief for stiff joints.

While many forms of the therapy require total immersion, that is not always the case. Localized baths such as a sitz bath can be employed to address discomfort for tired feet, aching legs and arms, or pain in the joints of the hands. Moving water, such as found in a hot tub or jacuzzi, can also be used to gently massage a lower back or a neck that is loaded with tension or pain.

While anyone can engage in simple hydrotherapy by enjoying a hot shower or bath, or lounging in a hot tub, pursuing more advanced forms of the therapy is best conducted under the guidance of a trained therapist. This will make it easier to determine which treatments would be of the most benefit, as well as setting a proper duration for each session.


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