H2O. This little molecule is so commonplace that it’s hard to think of it as a wonder drug. Yet in many cases of injury or accident, our first, instinctive response is to treat ourselves with water.
Every time you soothe a sprained ankle with an ice pack or hold a burned finger under a stream of cold tap water, you’re practicing a basic form of hydrotherapy, an ancient healing art that is safe and painless and requires nothing more exotic than what flows out of your faucet.
First used by Hippocrates in the fourth century B.C., hydrotherapy has been a part of the healing tradition of nearly every civilization from ancient Greece and Egypt to Rome, where virtually all medicine was practiced at the public baths.
Here are 13 tips for using hydrotherapy at home.
Cheap and easy, these simple hydrotherapy treatments require no special equipment and are ideal for home use, say hydrotherapy experts.
Caution: If you have diabetes, avoid hot applications to the feet or legs; avoid cold applications if you’ve been diagnosed with Raynaud’s disease; avoid hot baths and saunas if you have diabetes, multiple sclerosis, are pregnant, or have high or low blood pressure. Start slowly with hot treatments, as you can become exhausted, especially if you are young or old.
1. Baths and showers can be used to treat a number of health problems. Hot baths are used to ease joint pain, constipation and respiratory ailments. Cold baths relieve fever and combat fatigue, and herbal baths are popular for relaxation and skin care.
2. Neutral baths, in which the body is immersed up to the neck in water slightly cooler than body temperature, are used to treat insomnia, emotional agitation and menopausal hot flashes. Soak for 20 minutes, adding water as needed to maintain the temperature of the bath.
3. Foot baths aren’t just for tired, achy feet. Alternating hot and cold soaks is great for relieving swelling in the feet and legs. By diverting blood away from the affected areas, hot foot baths are used to relieve head and chest congestion and even menstrual cramps. Soak in comfortably hot water for 10 to 30 minutes, adding water as needed to maintain the temperature of the foot bath. Finish by rinsing your feet with cold water.
4. Cold mitten friction rubs, in which the skin is rubbed vigorously with a towel or mitten dipped in cold water, are used to increase circulation and fortify the immune system. It is a simple, invigorating way to banish fatigue. After a hot bath, shower or sauna, dip a towel or washcloth into cold water, curl one hand into a fist and wrap the cloth around it. Use your fist to rub your other arm in a vigorous circular motion, beginning with the fingers and finishing at the shoulder. Dip the cloth in the cold water again and repeat. The skin should be pink. Dry the arm with a towel using the same vigorous circular movement, then repeat the process on your other arm and on your legs, feet, chest and abdomen.
5. Inhale the steam from a pot filled with boiling water. Take the pot off the stove and let it cool, so no active boiling is taking place (if the water is actively boiling, you can scald your face and respiratory tract). Hold our face about a foot away from the pot, and cover your head and shoulders with a towel to trap the steam. Continue for up to an hour, reheating the water as needed.
6. Hot compresses applied to the chest are also helpful for respiratory problems. To prepare a large compress for the chest, fold a large bath towel over a dry one on your chest. Leave it in place for about five minutes. Repeat this procedure every two hours. Smaller hot compresses are used for localized pain relief from muscle spasms and certain types of arthritis.
7. Cold compresses can help relieve the pain of gout and minimize swelling from bruises and sprains. Experts suggest limiting cold applications to 20 minutes at a time to prevent damage to the skin.
8. Alternating hot and cold compresses stimulates circulation to help heal sprains and joint and muscle injuries. Begin with three to four minutes of heat followed by 30 to 60 seconds of cold. Repeat three to five times, ending with cold.
9. Heating compresses are actually cold compresses that are covered with a layer of dry cloth. They are left in place until the body’s heat warms them, usually for several hours or overnight. Used for sore throats, ear infections, chest colds, joint pain and digestive problems, the heating compress creates a soothing warmth in the affected area and attracts an influx of nutrient- and oxygen-rich blood to speed healing.
10. The body wrap, or wet sheet pack, works on the same principle as the heating compress. The entire body is wrapped in a cold, wet sheet and covered with a wool blanket; the feet are kept warm with blankets or a hot foot bath. The pack is left in place until the body heat dries the sheet. The effect depends on the duration of the treatment. If removed after about 20 minutes, the body wrap can reduce a fever. Left in place a little longer and removed in the warm, or neutral, stage, it encourages sleep and relaxation. Applications up to three hours long induce profuse sweating, an effective detoxifying treatment for those with drinking problems as well as for those who smoke. (This treatment usually requires a second set of hands.)
11. Salt scrubs.
12. Sitz baths are used to treat pain and infection in the pelvic area. Sit in a tub or large basin filled with enough water that the pelvic area is submerged u to the navel. Soak in water from 40 – 85F for 1 1/2 to 5 minutes.
13. Contrast sitz baths, using separate basins of hot and cold water, improves circulation in the pelvic area. Begin with a three- to four-minute soak in hot water, followed by a 30- to 60-second cold soak. Repeat three to five times, ending with cold water.