Hydrotherapy: How to Use the Power of Water for Healing

The healing power of water has been recorded since biblical times. With time and plenty of research, hydrotherapy was developed. The term “hydrotherapy” refers to the use of water in all its forms – gas, liquid and solid – to treat ailments and improve overall health. We use hydrotherapy as treatment for many medical conditions since the dawn of mankind.

What is hydrotherapy good for?

Hydrotherapy is more concerned about the temperature of water than its form. Water has a certain effect on the body when it is hot and another when it is cold. Knowing the difference between the two can help patients use it for what they need.

Hydrotherapy - Woman relaxing in a pool

Hot water has a sedating effect. Whether you drink or bathe in it, hot water lowers stress and induces relaxation. It also improves blood circulation, relieves tension in joints and muscles, and accelerates the release of white blood cells to strengthen the immune system.

Cold water has a stimulating effect. Because it causes blood vessels and muscles to contract, it is often used to treat weakness in the body. Cold water also combats inflammation among many other health benefits.

Here is comparison between the positive effects of cold and hot water.

Cold WaterHot Water
Stimulates immune systemRelaxes the muscles
Increase alertnessLowers body tension
Prevents coldsAlleviates migraine
Stimulates anti-depressions hormonesReduces swelling
Accelerates your metabolismReduces anxiety
Frees up the mindActs as a nasal decongestant
Tightens the skinRemoves toxins from the skin
Reduces hair lossOpens pores and cleans the skin

What is hydrotherapy used to treat?

The most common use of hydrotherapy is to treat musculoskeletal disorders, rheumatic complaints, burns, spasticity, stroke or paralysis. Hydropathy as it is also known is good for soothing pains from arthritis, spinal cord injuries or ankylosing spondylitis. Hydrotherapy is most commonly used to treat fibromyalgia, muscle pain, improve flexibility and strength.

What are the types of hydrotherapy?

Hydrotherapy is arguably the most cost-effective and safest therapy to practice at home. Water is a widely available resource that can be used in a variety of ways to induce healing. Various water therapies can be used to boost your overall health.

Hydrotherapy Baths and Showers

Hydrotherapy - Woman having a bath in home

It is not a coincidence that patients with colds and flu feel better after a hot bath or shower. Hot water activates the immune system. It also breaks up mucus in the respiratory system to alleviate nasal congestion and coughs.

Hot showers and baths also help those suffering from acute or chronic pain. Because hot water relaxes muscles, it can reduce pain and tension in the joints, neck, back, arms and legs.

Cold showers and baths, on the other hand, cause vasoconstriction. They reduce swelling and cure fatigue almost instantly. Please seek professional advice before taking long cold showers or baths.

Hydrotherapy Hand and Feet Baths

hydrotherapy hand and feet bath
Man and woman having hydrotherapy water footbath in spa setting.

Soaking hands and feet in a hot water bath can ease pain in all areas of the body, especially headaches, sore throats and stiffness in fingers and toes. Soaking in cold water draws blood away from other parts of the body to the hands and feet to reduce inflammation.

According to alternative practitioners, alternating between hot and cold water is the most effective technique. Begin by soaking in hot water for 3 minutes and immediately plunge hands and feet into a cold bath for 30 seconds. Always start with hot water and repeat.

Please note that hot foot and hand baths are not recommended to patients suffering from diabetes, arteriosclerosis and Buerger’s disease.

Hydrotherapy Compresses

Cold water compress with towel
Cold water compress with towel

Compresses include everything from ice packs to hot water bottles. Soaking a towel in hot or cold water is just as effective. Compresses are a good option for targeting a specific area of the body.

Hot compresses are ideal for reducing pain in the neck, abdomen, back and legs. They are also great home remedies for stomach pain, menstrual cramps and gallstones. Cold compresses can be placed directly on to inflamed areas for quick relief. They also help with itchiness.

Hydrotherapy Cold Water Treading

Soaking feet in clod water after shower
Soaking feet in clod water after shower

Cold water treading is when one takes a hot shower and immediately soaks feet in cold water afterwards. Therapists suggest soaking feet then marching in place for 3-5 minutes. Rub feet vigorously with a towel to dry and slip on a pair of warm socks. This therapy is contraindicated for those with rheumatism.

Hydrotherapy using Saunas and Steam Tents

Girl pouring essential oils on hot stones in sauna

Saunas and steam tents are commonly used to cleanse the skin, eliminate toxins and, to relieve nasal congestion. They can however, be useful in treating diseases if essential oils are added to the water. Do this while taking a sauna by pouring essential oils on hot stones. To make a steam tent, simply pour boiled water into a basin or container and inhale for a few minutes.

Drinking Water

Drink at least 65 ounces / 2 litres per day

Experts from all health disciplines have been preaching about the importance of drinking water for decades, and for good reason. In a nutshell, the body functions much smoother when it is well-hydrated. At least 8 glasses a day are recommended for better health. Read our extensive guide How To Properly Drink Water Throughout The Day to create drinking habits, but be aware that in some occasions you may have to reduce your water intake.

Professional Hydrotherapy

There are home therapies and then there is hydrotherapy that should only be performed by certified professionals. It is recommended for patients to see a practitioner if they need help with a chronic illness or severe injury.

  1. Whirlpool – Whirlpool treatment is a therapy designed to accelerate recovery from wounds, injuries and sores, as well as to improve blood circulation. The water contains minerals with healing properties. Whirlpools are a popular choice among paraplegics, athletes and performers.
  2. Sitz Bath – With Sitz baths, patients are submersed in hot or cold water for a specific length of time from the waist down. The treatment is ideal for pain and inflammation. Some practitioners use it to treat genital disorders and constipation.
  3. Neutral Bath – If patients suffer from water retention caused by a chronic illness, an alternative practitioner might recommend a neutral bath. It entails being immersed to the neck in 92-98F / 33 – 36 Celsius water for some time. In addition to treating water retention, neutral baths can help with nervous disorders and psychological problems.
  4. Hyperthermia – Hyperthermia requires the patient to be fully submerged in water. The temperature of the water is higher so it can cause a fever. Contrary to popular belief, a fever is a good sign that the body is actively fighting bacteria.
  5. Colon Irrigation – Colon irrigation is considered to be a type of detoxification therapy, but since it uses water, it falls under hydrotherapy as well. In this procedure, a practitioner inserts a small device in the rectum and guides it to the intestine to break up fecal matter for expulsion.
  6. Balneotherapy – Balneotherapy is very similar to whirlpool treatment. Patients soak in natural springs that contain healing minerals. Research shows this therapy benefits those with rheumatoid diseases and chronic pain.

Conditions Treated by Hydrotherapy

Hydrotherapy is mostly used to improve the comfort of patients struggling with chronic illnesses, weak immunity and injuries. It has been proven to aid those seeking relief from:

  • Pelvic inflammation
  • Rheumatism
  • Sciatica
  • Fluid retention
  • Cirrhosis (of liver)
  • Headaches
  • Shivering
  • Nausea
  • Faintness
  • Menstrual cramps
  • Genital infections
  • Mild heart conditions

Clinical Research

Professional hydrotherapy has produced positive results in clinical trials. Neutral baths, for instance, reduced fluid retention in just two hours for patients with heart disease and cirrhosis of the liver .

When tested with HIV patients, hyperthermia helped counteract the virus and led to the production of more antibodies when a fever was induced.

Home therapies, especially hot foot baths, decreased the severity of certain symptoms. These include faintness , dizziness, shivering and nausea. You can also read our step-by-step guide How to Use Water to Fight Disease and Achieve Optimal Hydration.

Interesting cold water immersion facts

It is scientifically proven that cold water immersions have a positive effect on your body. Here are some evidence-based stats and comparisons of how hydrotherapy in cold water can cause reactions in vital systems of our bodies.

Immersion temperature \ EffectsMetabolic rate (MR)Rectal temperature (Tre)Heart rate (HP)Systolic blood pressure (SBP)Diastolic blood pressure (DBP)Plasma renin activityPlasma cortisolAldosteroneDiuresis
Immersion at 32°CNo changeNo change15% decrease11% decrease12% decrease46% decrease34% decrease17% decrease107% increase
Immersion at 20°C93% increase10% decreas14% decrease11% decrease11% decrease40% decrease34% decreaseNo Change89% increase
Immersion at 14°C350% increase20% decrease5% increase7% increase8% increase23% increase40% decrease23% increase163% increase

The data is taken from US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health article.

The Consultation

Please be careful to seek medical advice before using any form of hydrotherapy, especially services provided by health spas. Something as simple as using water that is too cold or too hot can do more harm than good. Those with rheumatism should avoid this therapy altogether.

What are the side effects of hydrotherapy?

Improper uses of hydrotherapy can lead to some unwanted side effects. Make sure to stop practicing it if you feel bursitis in hips, cramps in calf muscles or cramps in feet. They are sure indicator that you are doing something wrong. Consult a specialist before practicing it in order to avoid side effects like fatigue, pain and muscle soreness.

Must follow rules in case of medical conditions

  • If you have diabetes or high blood pressure you must avoid warm baths and hot tubs. You must be very careful about submerging your body for continuous amount of time.
  • Patients with multiple sclerosis must also avoid taking sauna and hot-water baths.
  • All children and old people should follow doctor’s prescription when taking steam baths.
  • People with bladder irritation or rectal irritation should avoid cold-foot baths.


Using water to treat different conditions is known to man since ancient times. Ancient Romans, Greeks and Thracians knew it very well and used  techniques of therapeutic bathing to cure their bodies. There are many facts that Chinese and Native Americans use water as a healing agent since the history is recorded. Using it wisely can lead to great improvements in health status.

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