Yes, it really is what it sounds like.  Hydro refers to water, and therapy… well, that’s fairly self-explanatory, I think.  Hydrotherapy is Nature Cure at its finest. But (first of all) what is it, and (second of all) how in the world can water actually have any sort of therapeutic value?

Hydrotherapy dates back to the 1800s, when a priest named Father Kneipp first began to use the properties of hot and cold water applications to heal.  There are really only two basic principles involved in all forms of hydrotherapy.

  1. The first principle is that hot applications (of any kind, water included) cause vasodilation (they make your blood vessels expand), while cold applications cause your blood vessels to constrict.
  2. The second principle is that there are two responses of your body to any stimulus: the first, or primary action, and the secondary, lasting action.  Any living system is designed to maintain homeostasis, or balance, and so both actions are always necessary.  For instance, if you ice your injured shoulder, then the primary response is that the local blood vessels will constrict and decrease the flow of blood (and thus decrease inflammation).  But after awhile your body realizes that if it wants to prevent frostbite, it’d better send some blood to that shoulder, so the secondary response is an increased blood flow to the area.  The same happens with heat: the primary effect is vasodilation, but the secondary effect is decreased blood flow to the surface.

These principles can be applied in a variety of ways, depending on the condition.  My favorite technique is called constitutional hydrotherapy, and it involves a series of hot and cold towels to the torso, which creates a sort of “pumping” action, bringing blood to the internal organs and flushing it away quicker than would otherwise occur physiologically, which increases the flow of oxygen and nutrients and whisks away toxins faster as well.  Water is an especially good vehicle for this effect, because it has a high specific heat, which allows it to absorb and give off large quantities of heat.  There’s also an intangible result that naturopathic doctors tend to refer to as “increased vitality,” making constitutional hydrotherapy a terrific choice for chronic illness.

There are a number of other ways to use hydrotherapy, though, depending on your issue.  At times just a cold application (which is actually called a heating compress, because of its secondary action) is more appropriate.  At times tepid baths are most appropriate, such as in cases of insomnia or fever, to name a few.  Steam inhalation is considered hydrotherapy as well, and (as you might imagine) that’s terrific for upper respiratory problems.

Hydrotherapy is deceptively simple, but it works like a charm, and there are a number of treatments you can use right at home (and for free!) to treat common ailments.