Hydrotherapy Treatment, Benefits, Types & Contraindications

Hydrotherapy Treatment, Benefits, Types & Contraindications

Hydrotherapy treatment involves the use of unique properties in water to achieve therapeutic benefits.

“Hydrotherapy treatment” is treating a disease or symptoms with the use of water. This practice dates as far back as 4500 BC. In ancient Roman culture, bathhouses were a vital component of life. These bathhouses spread through Europe in the 17th and 18th centuries, and finally made it 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.

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/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 purpose.

Kneipp System: The Kneipp System – named after it’s designer, Father Sebastain Kneipp, 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 is unique as it can act as a treatment choice for either assistive or resistive force. There are unique principles of water that can make this possible:

Buoyancy: As per Archimede’s Principle of Buoyancy, a body immersed in a liquid experiences an upward force equal to the weight of the displaced liquid. This is why the body feels less weight in water than on land (this is also the principle behind hydrostatic weighing). The buoyancy of the water can assist or resist with the exercises of the extremities. In addition, 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 to each other. As a result, molecules are cohesive. This causes an increase in resistance to range of motion compared to that of the air.

Viscosity: Viscosity is an internal friction that directly depends on the speed of the liquid. 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 Treatment Benefits

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).

Hydrotherapy Contraindications

Hydrotherapy should be avoided in the following conditions:

  • Open wounds
  • Active infection
  • Altered sensation
  • Hydrophobia
  • Heat or cold intolerance
  • Poor balance

Do you use hydrotherapy in your practice? If so, tell us about your results in the Comments section below.

This article was written by Bijal Shah, Clinical Educator

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