This excerpt is reprinted from Healing Spriings: The Ultimate Guide to Taking the Waters, by Nathaniel Altman.
One of the most important activities that takes place at a traditional spa is balneotherapy, a natural approach to health and healing that uses hot spring water, gases, mud, and climatic factors (such as heat) as therapeutic elements.
In addition to bathing, modalities such as hydrotherapy, mud therapy, physical therapy, massage, steam baths, physical exercises, inhalation of water vapor, and drinking mineral water are often used as part of a complex therapy for both health and preservation and treating disease.
Over the past four centuries, the science of balneology has evolved into a medical specialty in Europe and Japan, where special courses in balneotherapy are offered to both physicians and nurses by major medical schools. Doctors believe that thermal springs facilitate healing in a number of important ways.
Eight Ways Balneotherapy Heals:
1. Bathing in hot springs gradually increases the temperature of the body, thus killing harmful germs and viruses.
2. Thermal bathing increases hydrostatic pressure on the body, thus increasing blood circulation and cell oxygenation. The increase in blood flow also helps dissolve and eliminate toxins from the body.
3. Hot springs bathing increases the flow of oxygen-rich blood throughout the body, bringing improved nourishment to vital organs and tissues.
4. Bathing in thermal water increases body metabolism, including stimulating the secretions of the intestinal tract and the liver, aiding digestion.
5. Repeated hot springs bathing (especially over three- to four-week period) can help normalize the functions of the endocrine glands as well as the functioning of the body’s autonomic nervous system.
6. Trace amounts of minerals such as carbon dioxide, sulfur, calcium, magnesium, and lithium are absorbed by the body and provide healing effects to various body organs and system. These healing effects can include stimulation of the immune system, leading to enhanced immunity; physical and mental relaxation; the production of endorphins; and normalized gland function.
7. Mineral springs contain high amounts of negative ions, which can help promote feelings of physical and psychological well-being.
8. The direct application of mineralized thermal waters (especially those containing sulfur) can have a therapeutic effect on diseases of the skin, including psoriasis, dermatitis, and fungal infections. Some mineral waters are also used to help the healing of wounds and other skin injuries.
Indications for Balneotherapy
Over the several hundred years during which the science of medical balneology has developed, physicians have been able to identify the health conditions that can best be treated by healing springs. The following list of indications for balneotherapy is based on the research of Yuko Agishi, M.D.
Chronic rheumatic diseases
Functional recovery of central and peripheral neuroparalysis
Metabolic diseases, especially diabetes, obesity, and gout
Chronic gastrointestinal diseases
Chronic mild respiratory diseases
Circulatory diseases, especially moderate or mild hypertension
Peripheral circulatory diseases (affecting the hands and feet)
Chronic skin diseases
Psychosomatic and stress-related diseases
Autonomic nervous system dysfunction
Vibration disorder (a middle ear disorder affecting balance)
Sequela of (conditions resulting from) trauma
Chronic gynecological diseases
If you have any illnesses or diseases, or are pregnant, consult with your physician before using spa therapy.
Avoid soaking in a hot spring alone and the elderly should use with caution. Don’t use a spa if you are under the influence of alcohol or drugs, especially heart medications. Don’t overheat, drink plenty of cool water and use private pools if you have a skin disease.