Focus on Spa Therapies: Hydrotherapy Part I

Hydrotherapy is the use of water to treat disease and maintain health. As Leonardo da Vinci once wrote, “Water is the driving force of all nature.”People use hydrotherapy to treat many illnesses and conditions, including arthritis, headaches, pain, insomnia and stress. According to hydrotherapy expert Professor Jonathan DeVierville, hydrotherapy has been used historically to treat a wide array of ailments—from cardiovascular and respiratory illnesses, to digestive disorders and rheumatic and neuralgic conditions. It can also be used in prevention or to help with overall personal wellness – to increase happiness levels (via parasympathetic stimulation).

Throughout time, water has been a healing element of spa. The word does Spa comes from the Latin phrase, sanitas per aquam, which means “health through water.” Water is found in different forms, such as ice, liquid, or steam. Ice may be used to cool, liquid is used in baths and compresses at varying pressures or temperatures, and steam is used in steam baths or inhalation therapy.

The wellness benefits of water are well documented:

  • Stimulates the circulatory system
  • Increases circulation
  • Helps combat varicose veins
  • Promotes sleep
  • Helps migraines
  • Stimulates the metabolism
  • Strengthens the immune system
  • Has a stabilizing effect on the autonomic nervous system

Contrast therapy is the use of cold and hot water to simulate and trigger positive reactions in the body. Vasoconstriction (narrowing of the blood vessels), with vasodilation (vascular expansion) promotes circulation throughout the body. This strengthens immune defenses, stimulates the circulatory and nervous system as well as metabolism and invigorates the body.

One of the pioneers in hydrotherapy was German priest, Sebastian Kneipp. Suffering from tuberculosis, experimented with regular bathing in the icy Danube River, which healed his body. Widely known as the “water doctor,” Kneipp created more than 120 applications for it including wraps, packs and compresses, jet/shower sessions, baths, steam and sauna experiences, water treading and dew walking.

One of the most important characteristics of Kneipp therapy is to gently stimulate the body "to give nature a gentle hand," thereby strengthening the immune system and raising the body's tolerance for stress. Kneipp’s various water applications range in temperature from icy and cold to tepid, warm, hot and steamy and work to improve blood flow, lymph circulation and regulate the metabolism.

In Part II, we will detail some of Kneipps’s Hydrotherapy treatments, which form the roots of modern spa treatments.