Hydrotherapy, also called aquatic or water therapy, is an alternative treatment that uses water as a tool to manage certain health conditions. Hydrotherapy is frequently used for post-surgery rehab or to help treat complex neurological disorders, but there are plenty of little-known uses for hydrotherapy that make it a beneficial tool for anyone! Here’s how:
Better mental health.
Whether you’re sitting by an outdoor fountain, going for a swim in a pool, lake or the ocean, or having a refreshing bath or shower, being in or near water promotes relaxation, focus, and a sense of peace for many of us. Several studies have found a connection between immersion in cool water and a decrease in mental health symptoms, especially when it comes to anxiety and depression. Swimming in natural bodies of water may come with the greatest benefits for a happy brain, as it also allows for a deeper connection to nature.
Improved blood pressure.
Exposure to cool water increases blood flow and improves circulation. Regular dips in cool or cold water can make long term improvements in blood pressure as your body learns to regulate its response to the changing temperature. Hydrotherapy can also help people avoid developing preeclampsia during pregnancy.
Natural pain relief.
From hot tubs for sore joints to athletes’ ice baths to water births, hydrotherapy is perhaps best known for its pain relieving abilities. Cold water is incredibly effective at healing minor burns and reducing swelling and bruising, and warm water is very useful for pain related to osteoarthritis, fibromyalgia, menstruation, and many other conditions. Studies have found people who regularly soak in hot water sleep better and may see improvements in insulin sensitivity and heart health.
Exercise and recovery.
Hydrotherapy is frequently used to help people living with MS, cerebral palsy, or Parkinson’s to improve balance, coordination, and strength. Water removes about 90% of the pressure off of the joints, making it a very low impact way to recover strength and stamina after surgery or injury. Exercising in water can help you to raise your heart rate and strengthen your muscles - all without risking injury to your joints.
Ready to start your own hydrotherapy routine? Here are some do’s and don’ts:
Warm water therapy: As always, use common sense and listen to your body when trying a new activity. Temperature aside, swimming in any body of water does pose some risk, so it’s a good idea to take a friend with you or let someone know where you’ll be. You should also avoid particularly hot or cold water if you have a heart condition or are otherwise sensitive to sudden temperature changes. If you're at home, you can schedule yourself a soak in a hot bath - add in your favorite scents, bubbles, or some candles to promote extra relaxation. If you’re going to a sauna or hot tub, remember the temperature should never exceed 104 degrees, and it’s wise not to stay inside longer than 20-30 minutes. When you get out, dry off and sit or walk around slowly to stabilize your body temperature, and have a cool drink.
Cold water therapy: You’ll get the most physiological and mental health benefits in water that is between 51 and 59 degrees. Always make sure you are warm before you go into cold water. Get in quickly, and aim to stay in the water until your breathing steadies. As little as 30 seconds in cool water is beneficial, and there’s really no benefit to staying in longer than 15 or 20 minutes. When you’re ready, dry off completely, and then put on warm and dry layers, starting with the top half of your body first. Walk around slowly to raise your body temperature or sit somewhere warm. It’s a good idea to eat or drink something warm too - sugar increases body temperature, so this is actually a great time for something sweet! Avoid taking a hot shower after swimming in cold water - the sudden change in temperature can make you dizzy.
Like exercise, nutritious food, vitamins, and healthcare, hydrotherapy can be a helpful tool for whole-body health. For more natural health tips, check out our other blog posts. If you're ready to start your own naturopathic health journey, schedule a consultation with Dr. Jones here.