Hydrotherapy treatment involves the use of unique properties in water to achieve therapeutic benefits.
Hydrotherapy treatment, or the use of water to treat disease or symptoms, is a practice dating as far back as 4500 BC.
In ancient Roman culture, bathhouses were a vital component of public life. Their popularity continued through the centuries, spreading through Europe in the 17th and 18th centuries before crossing the Atlantic to the United States in the mid 1700s.
Today, the most popular American bathhouses can be found in Arkansas and Colorado, but hydrotherapy treatment has far evolved past baths or spas.
Related: Aquatic Therapy Program Design
Types of hydrotherapy treatment
Hydrotherapy can be provided in various forms:
- Whirlpool or aquatic therapy: This is a type of hydrotherapy that a physical therapist or aquatic therapist will provide. A therapist may use different positions or directions depending on the results he or she wants to achieve.
- Contrast bath: As the name suggests, this is using cold and hot water baths alternatively. Contrast baths are proven to reduce pain, swelling, and inflammation.
- Hydro-massage: Hydro-massage often uses high pressure jets. This helps in pain reduction as well as relaxation.
- Spas: Spas can involve baths, pools, showers, or whirlpools. They are usually unsupervised and can be used for recreational purposes.
- Kneipp System: Named after its designer, Father Sebastain Kneipp, the Kneipp System uses different water temperatures with herbal and mineral baths. This has various health benefits in addition to a purifying diet or spiritual practice.
Principles of hydrotherapy
Hydrotherapy possesses several specialized traits. It can act as a treatment choice for either assistive or resistive force, made possible by the unique qualities of water.
- Buoyancy: As Archimedes famously articulated, the principle of buoyancy dictates that a body immersed in a liquid will experience an upward force equal to the weight of the displaced liquid. This is why the body feels less weight in water than on land. (Worth noting: this is also the principle behind hydrostatic weighing.) Water’s buoyancy can assist or resist with the exercises of the extremities. Changing the speed will either grade or change the exercise difficulty. In addition, the buoyancy of water is affected by postural alignment and the surface area immersed in the water.
- Hydrostatic pressure: A perpendicular pressure against the surface of the body exerted by water is called hydrostatic pressure. This pressure increases as the depth and density of the liquid increases. This is why a motion is performed more easily near the surface of the water than at greater depths.
- Cohesion: Water molecules have a tendency to attract each other, or cohere. This cohesion causes an increase in resistance to range of motion compared to that of the air.
- Viscosity: Viscosity is a measure of a liquid’s resistance to deformation at a given rate. It defines the liquid’s internal friction as determined by its speed. In other words, the higher the speed, the higher the viscosity, and thus, the higher the resistance to the movement. Furthermore, the shape of the object (the body) also affects viscosity. A larger or more spread out object faces greater resistance to motion in the water.
Hydrotherapy is useful in the treatment of:
- Management of acute or chronic pain
- Rehabilitation for pre- and post-joint replacement surgery
- Relieve arthritis pain
- Improve muscle flexibility
- Improve range of motion
- Improve strength via resistance training
- Weight loss
- Reduce muscle spasm
- Fight fatigue
- Aid in relaxation and lower stress levels
Additionally, hydrotherapy is a good alternative to vigorous exercise during pregnancy, and can help with labor pains during childbirth (water birth).
Related: Aquatic Training for Recovery
Despite its benefits, hydrotherapy is not for everyone. Hydrotherapy should be avoided in cases where the patient has open wounds, an active infection, altered sensation, poor balance, heat or cold intolerance, or hydrophobia.