Conventional hydrotherapy is the use of water to treat disorders, usually involving exercises in swimming pools to help arthritic patients. In contrast, naturopathic hydrotherapy uses alternating applications of hot and cold water to specific areas of the body to increase blood flow to underlying organs. The result: improved circulation.
Based on the working hypothesis that health is proportional to normal flow of healthy blood, naturopathic hydrotherapy may be used to enhance circulation via the heart and blood vessels. It is through the skin, nerves, and blood vessels, however, that naturopathic hydrotherapy has its greatest impact.
The objective is to normalize the quantity of blood flowing through a region of the body during a set period time. This may mean increasing or reducing blood circulation.
Methods used include the following:
- Hot and cold packs consisting of ice, mud, herbs, and water particularly benefit arthritic and traumatic states.
- Wraps using linen or cloth sheets and natural-fibre blankets can support fever and inflammatory problems.
- Saunas and steam baths relax and eliminate toxins through the skin. They stimulate blood flow, increase heart rate, and have an immune-modulating effect.
- Full and partial immersion baths can be cold, hot, or neutral in temperature. They stimulate overall blood flow to reduce infection and relieve pain and insomnia.
- Douches, in which a stream of water is directed toward the heart from lower extremities, can reduce the swelling that causes such conditions as varicose veins and edema.
Temperature variation, duration and frequency of application, site of treatment, pressure or friction application, degree of wetness, and the material used in compresses all affect the results of hydrotherapeutic treatment.
For example, a short hot application (at temperatures between 98 to 104 F [33 to 40 C] and lasting less than five minutes) is stimulating to the circulation, causing blood vessels to dilate because of the heat applied. In contrast, a long hot application (at similar high temperatures but lasting longer than five minutes) is depressing to the circulation because it triggers the body’s protective reaction to the heat, and blood vessels close.
Similarly, a short cold application (at temperatures 51 to 65 F [10 to 20 C] and lasting less than one minute) is stimulating to the circulation because blood vessels immediately constrict in response to the cold temperatures and then dilate. If a cold application is long enough (at similar low temperatures but lasting longer than one minute) blood vessels constrict again, depressing circulation.
Hydrotherapy is effective for several reasons. The high specific heat of water allows it to absorb and emit large quantities of heat. Water’s fluidity allows it to come into easy contact with treatment areas. Further, its conduction properties allow it to transfer heat effectively.
If you are pregnant or have diabetes, Raynaud’s disease, or multiple sclerosis, consult a naturopathic doctor before using hydrotherapy. The elderly, the very young, and those with abnormally high or low blood pressure also need careful monitoring. People with impaired temperature sensation run the risk of scalding or frostbite at extreme temperatures.
The application of water is powerful medicine for not only disorders of circulation but as a treatment for the whole body.