Hydrotherapy-Benefits, Types and Precautions


“Water is a source of life”, is the central theme of hydrotherapy. Hydrotherapy is an age-old method to heal, revive and revitalize your body through water. Hydrotherapy is also known as “water therapy”, “aquatic therapy”, “pool therapy”, or “balneotherapy”. It is a naturopathic treatment and the modality being used widely in ancient cultures including India, Egypt, China, etc.

Religiously, water is believed as a cure-all medicine. It also holds significance from religious point of view:

  • In Hindu rituals, many festivals are started by observing holy dips into pious rivers, death rituals to involve dispersing ashes into the river for the salvation of the departed soul.
  • Sikhism also preaches the benefits of bathing with cold water. As per teachings of Guru Nanak Dev, when the cold water hits the surface of the skin (which has four layers) all the blood from way deep inside the body rushes to the surface in self-defense, vastly improving circulation on the spot, strengthening the entire body system.

Taking a hot shower before retiring to bed,,hot water bottle for menstrual cramps, applying hot compresses on ached muscles and cold compresses after getting a tooth extracted are all forms of hydrotherapy, routinely done at home.

♦ Hydrotherapy – techniques involving therapeutic bathing and using water;
♦ Balneotherapy – therapeutic bathing in medicinal and thermal springs
♦ Thalassotherapy – therapeutic bathing in the sea and using marine

How does Hydrotherapy work?

There are two main goals of hydrotherapy:

  • Improving the blood circulation
  • Blood purification.

Blood should be able to perform its function efficiently, which is to deliver nutrients and removal of wastes from tissues and organs. The poor or sluggish circulation is not capable of delivering nutrients and removal of toxins from the body, causing degeneration of the tissues and organs.

The use of water both externally or internally in any of its forms and temperature (water, ice, steam) can put an impact on different body systems in a different manner, beneficial for maintaining and promoting health, preventing and treating the diseases. Apart from temperature, pressure, duration and site are other crucial factors modifying the potential of hydrotherapy in preventing and relieving ailments.

How does Water act Reflexively?

This means that when water is applied to one part of the body, other parts of the body also stimulated by an arterial (blood vessel) reflex or spinal cord reflex. Hydrotherapy takes advantage of this reflexive action. For example, if the left the foot is fractured and in a cast, an alternating hot and cold treatment can be performed on the right foot. Because of the reflexive action, the left foot obtains the benefits of the hydrotherapy treatment even though it was done on the right foot.

Action of Hot Water Hydrotherapy

  • Heat vasodilates blood vessels, increasing blood supply to the area of its application.
  • Increased blood flow facilitates tissue healing by supplying protein, nutrients, and oxygen at the site of injury.
  • A 1ºC increase in tissue temperature is associated with a 10% to 15% increase in local tissue metabolism.

Action of Cold Water Hydrotherapy

  • Cold application to the body vasoconstricts blood vessels, decreasing the blood supply of site of application, reducing inflammation and swelling of the target area.
  • Cold Application reduces tissue metabolism, oxygen utilization, inflammation and muscle spasm.

Rule of thumb

Use water in cold form for acute injuries or pain, along with inflammation and swelling. Use heat for chronic conditions over longer periods of time, muscle pain or stiffness.

2 Categories of Hydrotherapy

Hydrotherapy is generally categorized into following two types:

External Hydrotherapy

External hydrotherapy comprises the application of water or ice to the body or immersion of the body in water.

Hot water hydrotherapy

  • Hot water induces sweating and helps in the relaxation of muscles.
  • Hot water is very helpful to treat poor circulation, sore muscles, arthritis, and rheumatism by using the combination of aromatherapy.

Cold water hydrotherapy

Cold water helps in stimulating underlying muscles and blood flow in the skin.

Fomentation: moist heat is called fomentation, and is helpful for conditions such as flu, arthritis, or chest cold whereas cold compresses or ice packs help with headaches, dental surgery, or sprains. Body packs are helpful for detoxification and to calm psychiatric patients.

Internal Hydrotherapy

Internal hydrotherapy includes colonic irrigation and enemas.

Colonic irrigation is an enema which is used for cleansing the entire bowel. It is believed to cure a number of digestive problems.

Douching is another form of internal hydrotherapy, which directs a stream of water into the vagina for cleansing purposes. However, this is generally not the recommended form of therapy.

Hot water immersion (HWI) is a thermotherapeutic intervention in which the body is immersed in water exceeding 36 degree Celsius.

Contrast bathing

Repeated application of, or immersion in, hot/warm water and cold water Treat symptoms associated with local inflammation response to tissue trauma. Delayed muscle soreness, particularly in athletes

11 Benefits  of Hydrotherapy

1. For Pain Relief

Endorphins are a neurotransmitter. These chemicals are capable of using the perception of pain. Hydrotherapy is believed to enhance levels of endorphins which in turn help to alleviate tension and control pain.

2. For Elimination of toxins from the body

Hydrobath improves circulation by providing nourishment and removing toxins.

3. For Immunity

Detoxification leads to a stronger immune system, which is able to manage controlling infections, bacteria and viruses.

4. Stress

Stress in day to day life is the root cause of many psychological and physical illnesses,  like digestive complaints, high blood pressure, anxiety attacks, depression, headaches, and insomnia.

5. Arthritis

Hydrotherapy helps in treating arthritis by submerging into water either to soak or to exercise. This procedure is very helpful to treat stiffness and joint pains.

  • The warmth of the water allows muscles to relax and eases the pain in your joints, helping you to exercise.
  • The water supports your weight, which helps to relieve pain and increase the range of movement of your joints.
  • The water can be used to provide resistance to moving your joints. By pushing your arms and legs against the water, you can also improve your muscle strength.

6. Back Pain

Alternate hot and cold compresses are applied to the painful area for acute back pain. The hot compress will increase blood flow to the area and relax the muscles while the cold compress
helps reduce inflammation. Chronic backaches may be benefited from alternating hot and cold showers.

7. Hydrotherapy for Acne

Treatments like hot and cold wet compresses and colon hydrotherapy are proposed to cure acne.

8. Sleep disorders: Insomnia

A hot bath before a night sleep can make you enjoy sound night sleep and cure sleep disorders. Bath before sleep diverts the blood back to the external areas from the head. But, avoid to stay in hot water for an extended period of time as this could lead to the risk of overheating.

9. Joint Pain

Whirlpools, Jacuzzis, and hot bathtub in treating muscle and joint pain and to regain muscle strength.

10. Headaches
Hydrotherapy in the form of moist compresses is very useful for headaches.

11. Sciatica

Sciatica is when the sciatic nerve, which runs from your hips to your feet, is irritated. Hydrotherapy has proved to counteract the bodily reactions caused by sciatica and reduce pain or ache by using its hot tub therapy. Then body becomes weightless relieving it of the constant pull of gravity when submerged in a hot tub.

Types of Hydrotherapy Techniques

Hot Foot Baths

Local immersion of the feet and ankles in water at a temperature of 102-112 degrees F for 10-30 minutes.

Kneipp system

This technique involves the use of cold and hot water on the skin. The technique is done in a Kneipp bath which helps to improve the immune system.


It involves the use of warm water, which applies chemical, mechanical and thermal massage to the body. This helps to improve the circulation of blood, relieving pain and tension while relaxing
the muscle. It is also used to treat insomnia, tendinitis, and multiple sclerosis. In addition, hydro-massage is also used to relieve and manage stress.

Colon Hydrotherapy

It is a technique that involves infusing warm water into the rectum. Colonic hydrotherapy is very helpful when treating patients with irritable bowel syndrome, digestive problems, indigestion and constipation.

The technique is painless and helps in washing out old and built-up waste in the colon. Colon therapy aims at improving the overall health of the digestive system. Note that, water used in colon hydrotherapy does not contain any drug, chemical or herb.

Baths & Showers

Baths and showers can be healthy and healing. A hot bath or shower can encourage relaxation, reduce stress and flush out toxins. Adding essential oils or herbs to the bath can enhance the therapeutic benefits.

Cold foot bath

Here the feet are immersed in cold water (up to the ankles) for around one minute. Cold foot baths provide relief to tired feet. It is also found to be effective against insomnia, headaches, sprains and varicose veins.


Towels are soaked in warm and/or cool water and then placed on a particular area on the body. Cool compresses reduce inflammation and swelling, while warm compresses promote blood flow and ease stiff and sore muscles. It is an effective therapy for a sore throat, cold, flu, and sinus congestion when it is administered to the throat or feet. When the feet are treated, it is also known as warming socks or wet socks treatment.

Hip or Sitz Bath

A sitz bath involves two adjacent tubs of water, one warm and one cool. You sit in one tub with your feet in the other tub and then alternate. Sitz baths are recommended for haemorrhoids, premenstrual syndrome (PMS), and menstruation problems.

Steam bath or Turkish bath

Steam rooms are filled with warm, humid aid. The steam is said to help the body release impurities. Steam baths are used to treat bronchitis, asthma, skin problems, pain and allergies.


The dry, warm air promotes sweating

Steam inhalation

Here water is boiled in a large pot. Steam inhalation provides relief from a sinus infection and nasal congestion. People with high blood pressure should avoid steam inhalation.

Full immersion bath

In this technique, the person is immersed in water (up to shoulder level) for around 20 minutes. The temperature of the water is maintained at around 90 degrees Fahrenheit. The water may be plain or it may contain herbs, salts or oils. This form of hydrotherapy produces relaxation.

Hot tubs are sometimes also known as spas or by the trade name Jacuzzi.

Precautions with Hydrotherapy

  • Mind the temperature of water. Water has a heat capacity 1000 times greater than air and transfers heat 25 times faster.
  • Water which is too hot can cause severe burns. The temperature of water also should be regulated based upon the individual’s tolerance capacity.
  • Tolerance levels can change from treatment to treatment, depending on the emotional state, the degree of injury or illness, and body temperature.
  • The amount of time the hot and cold is applied may vary (e.g., 5 minutes hot, 1 minute cold). Cold applications should be of shorter duration than the hot.
  • The host application should be pleasantly hot.
  • Cold applications should be 1/4th to ½ the length of the hot applications.
  • The treatment should be concluded with the cold application.
  • Heat and Cold or ice should never be applied directly to the skin. A barrier, such as a towel, should be placed between the cold/ hot agent and the skin’s surface to prevent skin and nerve damage. Punctured commercial cold or hot packs should be immediately discarded, as the chemical agent/gel will burn skin.

When is Hydrotherapy not Appropriate?

  • Cardiovascular disease or high blood pressure – Increased blood flow may put additional stress on the heart
  • Fever
  • Inflammation – Warming may not be recommended for acute injuries.
  • Kidney disease
  • Cancer
  • Pregnancy
  • Decreased sensitivity to hot and/or cold
  • Emergency condition: Hydrotherapy is NOT suitable for acute conditions requiring emergency medical care such as; heart attack, stroke
  • Diabetes: high risk of burns or tissue damage due to altered temperature sensations. Risk of hypoglycemia.

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