An Analysis of Hydrotherapy (humanities essay)

An Analysis of Hydrotherapy (humanities essay)The awareness of the healing potential of water as a therapeutic resource is aged. The ancient Romans understood its value to heal, hydrate and sustain life and created many public bathhouses for therapeutic use. By the time the ancient Greek civilization was established, the use of water as a healing resource was well known (Bettman, 1956). The ancient Greek physician, Hippocrates, promoted the healthful effects of taking a bath and the Roman regimen also acknowledged its value for good health and hygiene (Schiff, 2001). The ancestors of many cultures used Hydrotherapy techniques, also called Hydrotherapeutics or Hydropathy (Beamon & Falkenbach, 2004) and its value became better known with the first textbook on hydrotherapy, written by an English physician named John Floyer in 1697 (Schiff, 2001). In Germany during the nineteenth century, Vincenz Priessnitz (1799-1851) and a Bavarian monk, Father Sebastian Kneipp (1821-1897) established independent Hydrotherapy Centres declaring that water would “dissolve, remove and strengthen”; that water could dissolve matter suppressing disease, remove the disease from the body while strengthening the body by restoring clean blood to the tissues and maximizing circulation (Griffin, 2003).
In 1900, Hydrotherapy gained some scientific acceptance when J. H. Kellogg, a medical doctor, published his book, Rational Hydrotherapy, which became the definitive work on the subject (Barron, 2003). He documented numerous research experiments on the therapeutic effects of water, capturing the interest of incalculable readers, promoting and signifying its value in the medical field. His book is still used today by many practitioners who are learning the rudiments of Hydrotherapy as part of their training.
The practitioners most often associated with hydrotherapy today are naturopaths. The education of naturopathic doctors (NDs) follows a path similar to that of medical doctors (MDs). Applicants enter naturopathic medical school after receiving a baccalaureate degree (usually pre-med) where they complete two years of post-graduate basic science coursework and then move on to two to three years of didactic and clinical training including time spent in supervised patient care. In addition to education and training in the same areas of study as conventional medicine, they learn about holistic approaches, with a strong emphasis on disease prevention. These studies include clinical nutrition, acupuncture, homeopathy, herbal medicine, natural childbirth, manipulative therapy and hydrotherapy. Upon graduation, students must pass a professional board examination to become a licensed Doctor of Naturopathic Medicine (Canadian Council of Naturopathic Examiners, 2003).
Modern Hydrotherapy treatment can be defined as the use of water in the treatment of injury, illness and disease (Becker & Cole, 1999), which includes various theories of approach depending on the specific technique used. Some theories are based on the observation that applying warmth to the skin causes vasodilation (expansion of blood vessels), bringing blood to the body’s surface. This warmth can also cause muscle relaxation, where as cold temperatures have the opposite effect. According to its mineral content, water taken internally can have laxative, diuretic, phlegmatic (phlegm producing) or diaphoretic (perspiration-inducing) effects. Used externally water has the power to improve blood and lymph circulation, relax tension in the tissues, alleviate pain and calm the nervous system (Becker & Cole, 1999).
Hydrotherapy’s restorative and healing properties are based on its mechanical and/or thermal effects (Batmanghelidj, 2003). It exploits the body’s reaction to hot and cold stimuli, to the protracted application of heat, to pressure exerted by the water and to the sensation it gives. The nerves carry impulses felt at the skin deeper into the body, which in turn stimulates the immune system, influences the production of stress hormones, invigorates the circulation and digestion encouraging blood flow, and lessening pain sensitivity. Generally, heat quiets and soothes the body, slowing down the activity of internal organs where cold in contrast, stimulates and invigorates, increasing internal activity (Batmanghelidj, 2003).
Research into Hydrotherapy has revealed that blood increases its flow in a reflex reaction in the internal organs when the circulation to the overlying skin is stimulated (Batmanghelidj, 2003). It is this internal response that produces long lasting and cumulative effects when undergoing a series of Hydrotherapy treatments. Research has further shown that the beneficial effects on the immune system last for up to 24 hours making the effects of this therapy very effective for any disorder involving immune function. In some cases, a mild electrical stimulation is applied over the spine during the treatment to enhance the effects (Becker & Cole, 1999). Modifications can be made during the therapy depending on the person’s ability to react to it and the type of disease being attended.
Contrast Hydrotherapies, alternate heat with cold to dramatically stimulate local circulation and typically involve compresses or immersion, (Campion, 2000). A hot wet towel is placed on the patient for up to five minutes drawing blood to the surface and then replaced by a cold towel, which first pushes the blood away from the surface and then draws it back to the surface. The strength of the treatment is controlled by the temperature difference between hot and cold; the greater the difference in temperature, the stronger the effect is on the body (Campion, 2000). For example, a 95 percent increase in local blood flow can be affected by a 30-minute contrast bath to the lower extremities (four minutes hot, one minute cold, repeated for a total of 30 minutes). The hot and cold applications create a pump-like action that increases the circulation, forcing the blood to move again. Positive effects of this contrast treatment include increasing oxygen to the tissues, increasing the removal of waste products and increasing white and red blood cells in the area (Campion, 2000).
Western medical doctors will use Hydrotherapy to treat strains, sprains, and fevers (Eisenberg, 1997). Alternative medicine practices use Hydrotherapy as part of the treatment for a larger variety of illnesses and disorders including ear infections, digestive problems, fatigue, depression, menstrual problems and headaches. It may also be used to treat anxiety, bronchitis, poor immune function, fibromylagia, autoimmune diseases and cancer (Chandler, 2000). Hydrotherapy has participated in the detoxification program for many chronic health problems. Some of the current therapies used include: douches, water birthing, rising-temperature hip baths, sitz baths, steam baths or saunas, spas, hot tubs, whirlpools or motion-based hydrotherapy, purifying mineral baths with additives such as sea salt or essential oils and Dead Sea water treatments (Fulder, 2000). Some therapies include the use of water as only one aspect of the technique: nasal irrigation, colonic irrigation or enema, physical therapy in pools, drinking mineral water or “enriched” water, steam inhalation or humidifiers, coffee infusions, aromatherapy or baths with added essential oils and water yoga (Fulder, 2000).
According to Meeker (1998) a study at Southeastern Louisiana University School of Nursing, Hydrotherapy assists in healing the wounds of patients who have undergone major abdominal surgery. Often, patients experience additional pain around the incision area because pressure is created from trapped anaesthesia gases in the intestines increasing tension on muscles and tissues. This can result in poor pain management which can effect tissue regeneration. The whirlpool enhances relaxation bringing a relief from the pain and allowing normal wound healing. An independent study of a three-day survey revealed that patients receiving Hydrotherapy experienced significantly less pain than the patients not receiving it. As well, the wounds of those undergoing Hydrotherapy experienced considerably less signs of surgical wound inflammation than those that did not use Hydrotherapy.
Many naturopaths have assisted patients suffering from varicose veins by using Hydrotherapy to help promote better circulation. A research study conducted at the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at the University of Vienna has learned that Hydrotherapy is instrumental in the treatment of primary varicose veins (Ernst, Saradeth & Resch, 2001). In this study, sixty-one patients suffering from primary varicosity were divided into two groups. One group received regular Hydrotherapy treatments and the other received no such treatment for a period of three and a half weeks. Observations of the leg volume changes were stronger and more persistent in reduction in the treatment group. The same improvements were found for ankle and calf circumferences, which were reduced significantly only in patients treated with Hydrotherapy. As well, some but not all of the subjective symptoms, were more improved in the treatment group, verifying to the researchers that primary varicose veins can be helped significantly by Hydrotherapy and should be considered as an adjunct to other forms of treatment.
According to the findings in two recent studies, Hydrotherapy can be used in the treatment of asthma. A study conducted at the Division of Medicine, Misasa Medical Branch at Okayma University Medical School revealed that the clinical effects of spa therapy which includes swimming training in a hot spring pool and inhalation of iodine salt solution, were observed in 52 patients with steroid-dependent intractable asthma (SDIA) (Tanizaki, Kitani, Okazaki, et. al., 2002). The clinical effects were proven to be beneficial in 36 of the 52 patients with SDIA. It was learned that the decreased function of the adrenocortical glands expressed by low serum cortisol levels improved after the spa therapy. There was also a reduction in the dose of glucocorticoids necessary to control asthma attacks. The same university revealed similar findings (Tanizaki, Kitani, Okazaki, et. al., 2003) when 37 patients with steroid-dependent intractable asthma were examined observing the improvement of ventilatory function after receiving spa therapy. These patients had all been on long-term corticosteroids therapy before spa therapy. The results revealed that Spa therapy significantly improved the values of the ventilatory parameters, especially in patients with type II asthma. It was recommended that Spa therapy be recognized as an aid to improve the condition of small airways disorder in patients with steroid-dependent intractable asthma.
Arthritis sufferers were the subjects of another recent study where they benefited from the use of Hydrotherapy (Hall, Skevington, Maddison et al, 2001). One hundred and thirty-nine patients with chronic rheumatoid arthritis were randomly assigned to different therapies including Hydrotherapy, seated immersion, land exercise and progressive relaxation. They attended 30-minute sessions twice a week for a period of four weeks. Annotations for physical and psychological measures were completed before and after and again at a three-month follow-up. The results revealed that all patients improved physically and emotionally as assessed by the Arthritis Impact Measurement Scales 2 questionnaire. Their belief that their pain was controlled by chance happenings decreased, signifying not only improvement in their condition but also in their mental ability to manage their symptoms. Female Hydrotherapy patients showed significantly greater improvement in joint tenderness and in knee range of movement than the other patients, and the three-month follow-up measurement revealed that the patients maintained the improvement in their emotional and psychological state. The report concluded that there is clear evidence to substantiate the significance of Hydrotherapy for arthritis sufferers and to support the continued use of this therapy as an effective adjunct treatment.
Researchers at the Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, University of Liverpool in the United Kingdom have revealed in their findings that Hydrotherapy is particularly beneficial for pregnant women during labour (Aird, Luckas, & Buckett, 1997), utilizing the use of birthing pools. In a District General Hospital in Liverpool two groups of women with similar age, parity, obstetric history and of low obstetric risk, were studied to challenge the use of Hydrotherapy during labour. One hundred used the birthing pool during their labours and a control group of 100 women delivered without it. The main outcome measures were operative delivery rates, duration of labour, analgesic requirements, perineal trauma and Apgar scores at 1 and 5 minutes. The results revealed that women using the birthing pool had significantly reduced operative delivery rates, a shorter second stage of labour, reduced analgesic requirements and a lower incidence of perineal trauma, and they required significantly less analgesic support. The report concluded that Hydrotherapy was a significant aid in the labour and delivery process and should be considered as a safe and effective birthing aid.
While the benefits of Hydrotherapy are so highly praised in many areas, the safety of some Hydrotherapy techniques is not well studied. It is recommended that sudden or prolonged exposure to extreme temperatures in baths, wraps, saunas or other types of hydrotherapy be avoided, particularly by patients with heart disease or lung disease or by pregnant women (Vickers, 2000). Warm temperatures can lead to dehydration or low blood sodium levels, and hydration and electrolyte intake should be maintained, while cold temperatures may worsen symptoms in people with circulatory disorders, such as acrocyanosis, chilblains, erythrocyanosis or Raynaud’s disease (Vickers, 2000). Caution must be adhered to, particularly for patients with temperature-sensitivity disorders such as neuropathy and people with implanted medical devices such as pacemakers, defibrillators or liver infusion pumps, who should avoid high temperatures or therapies that involve electrical currents (Vickers, 2000). In some cases, the skin can become irritated with contaminants or additives in water such as essential oils or chlorine, and skin infections may occur if water is not sanitary, particularly in patients with open wounds (Fulder, 2000). There have been several reported cases of dermatitis and bacterial skin infections after hot tub or whirlpool use. It is further recommended that people with fractures, blood clots, bleeding disorders, severe osteoporosis or open wounds and pregnant women should avoid vigorous therapy with water jets (Vickers, 2000).
Self-administered hydrotherapy should not delay the time it takes to see a primary health care provider for diagnosis of an injury or illness. It is always best to consult with a primary health care provider before starting hydrotherapy. The negative effects of these therapies are not yet conclusive and where a chosen therapy for one patient can prove to be significantly beneficial, it could prove to be extremely harmful or fatal to another. There are many well-researched benefits to the use of hydrotherapy alone, in the case of minor injury, as well as in combination with other treatments, in the case of more severe injury or illness (Schiff, 2001). In view of these benefits that have been discovered it appears to be a significant tool in the practice of alternative medical therapies.
This post originally appeared on

An Analysis of Hydrotherapy (humanities essay) 9.5 of 10 on the basis of 1781 Review.