Used across cultures over millennia to reduce pain and encourage healing, hydrotherapy is one of the oldest forms of natural medicine. Dating back to Ancient Greece, Hippocrates, the father of modern medicine, believed hydrotherapy was a key healing resource.
Through detailed observation, Hippocrates concluded that our health is governed by a vital force or vis medicatrix naturae, meaning “the healing power of nature,” that is constantly working to maintain normal balance in structure and function within the body when confronted with injuries and disease (1).
Despite conducting his observations and analysis over two-thousand years ago, his theories on hydrotherapy were not off the mark. And though the precise mechanisms are still a mystery, the evidence-based results are astounding.
Hydrotherapy is known to improve our body’s natural vitality by aiding detoxification, relieving inflammation and pain, enhancing relaxation and metabolic processes, lowering blood pressure, and stimulating blood flow to vital muscles and organs, among many other benefits (2,3).
How exactly does it work? Let’s take a closer look: Cold water stimulates the body, causing the constriction of surface blood vessels, directing blood to vital organs. Hot water, on the other hand, relaxes the body, causing the dilation of blood vessels, directing the removal of bodily waste. Thus, by alternating between hot and cold, we’re helping our body stimulate circulation, decrease inflammation, and improve homeostasis — allowing the body to naturally heal itself (3).
In this time of uncertainty atop millions of Americans already struggling with a chronic disease, such as obesity, type 2 diabetes, hypertension, and heart disease, it’s more important than ever to boost our natural vitality (4).
Only by supporting and enhancing the efficacy of the vital force can we truly realign with the laws of nature and prevent (as well as reverse) chronic disease. By folding regular hydrotherapy routines into our daily lives, our health will only reap the benefits.
Many different types of hydrotherapy methods exist, but with less access to health centers and spas, we must get creative. Thankfully, there are a few easy ways to take advantage of its healing effects at home. This can include steam rooms and saunas, hot springs, showers and baths rich in magnesium salts, and foot soaks. If possible, take advantage of any nearby waters, as swimming in cold rivers, lakes, and oceans can significantly decrease tension, pain, and fatigue while increasing memory and mood (3). Generally, it’s best to always end with some form of cold, even if it’s 30–60 seconds in a cold shower.
Here are a couple of easy at-home hydrotherapy contrast treatments that can be done in thirty minutes or less using just a few household items:
- While lying flat on your back, cover the anterior torso with two hot large hand towels folded in half (four thicknesses or layers of terry cloth) soaked in hot water tolerant to touch, and leave in place for five minutes.
- Replace hot towels with one cold large hand towel folded in half (two thicknesses or layers of terry cloth), leaving in place ten minutes or longer, until the towel is warmed.
- Cover body with a blanket, preferably wool or Vellux, to retain body heat during the length of treatment.
- Repeat the entire procedure on your posterior torso while lying face down.
*This version might require someone assisting you in placing the towels.
- Immerse the entire body in a hot bath or shower for five minutes.
- Then, dry quickly with a towel and soak another towel in cold water, wring out completely, and wrap around both sides of the torso, or from armpit to groin.
- Cover the body with wool or Vellux blanket, leaving the cold towel wrapped for twenty minutes, or longer, until the towel is warmed.
- Fioranelli M., Gianfaldoni R., Gianfaldoni S., Grazia Roccia M., Lotti T., Tchernev G., Wollina U. History of the Baths and Thermal Medicine. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5535692/.
- Upendra Nagaich, Dr. Hydrotherapy: Tool for preventing illness. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4932807/#:~:text=The%20advantages%20of%20hydrotherapy%20comprise,improving%20skin%20and%20muscle%20tone.
- Mooventhan A, Nivethitha L. Scientific Evidence-Based Effects of Hydrotherapy on Various Systems of the Body. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4049052/
- Tackling the Burden of Chronic Diseases in the USA. The Lancet. Volume 373, Issue 9659, P185, JANUARY 17, 2009. https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(09)60048-9/fulltext